Emotional Health 5 minutes to read

Let’s get one thing straight: the holidays are amazing and stressful at the same time, and for some reason, it doesn’t seem like we can have one without the other. Is it possible?

Here are a few triggers that have the potential to derail our healing during this Christmas season.

SUGAR, SUGAR, SUGAR

Grandma’s caramels
Cookies at every holiday children’s program
BOGO holiday coffees
Chocolates EVERYWHERE
Holiday pies
Candy Canes
Do you want whip with that?

The list goes on and on! As I sit here drinking my 20 ounce, 280 calorie coconut milk macchiato (don’t judge me), I am reminded again of sugar’s addictive power.* At Christmas time, we find ourselves even more drawn to sugary foods as we’re getting into the spirit of the season. A little sugar never hurt anything, right?

Truthfully, sugar can stimulate the brain’s reward pathway and become addictive; a socially acceptable coping strategy especially during the Christmas season. We can’t fall victim to the holiday sugar fest. It might feel good in the moment, but just like many other compulsive behaviors, ultimately, regret will follow.

SALES, SURPRISES, & STUFF

All right, to all my fellow shoppers out there, let’s get real about this—Christmas sales are the worst! And yet, they are the absolute best! Sometimes I find myself unable to resist the awesome deal in front of me and end up shopping for all the birthdays and surprises for the entire year. It feels so great to get a good deal, but at the same time, I’m just accumulating more stuff.

As packages arrive on my doorstep, I am faced with a pile of brown cardboard boxes filled with all the amazing gifts I specifically chose for my loved ones (and myself). Taking each item out of the box, examining it, and then wrapping it up is so much fun! I feel a great sense of accomplishment in choosing gifts that I think others will enjoy. There is excitement in all the shopping and buying, but it can also be a huge stressor. The stressor gets even worse for some of us who fall into the trap of not staying in budget; in January, we realize how much money was actually spent. 

$$$

TRADITION, TRADITION, TRADITION

Okay, let’s all pretend that I’m not humming the tune to the classic, non-holiday, musical, Fiddler on the Roof. I saw that musical as a kid and have loved the music ever since. Even though the song has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, I can’t help but think of that song when I hear the word, “tradition.”

But seriously, what about all the fun family holiday traditions? Traditions can be enjoyable and remembering traditions from childhood can bring to mind fond memories, while others may not. We may avoid some traditions, carry on traditions, or start traditions of our own. Although traditions can be fun, sometimes they can be a lot of pressure. They can create an unnecessary expectation inside us and even the idea of trying to carry out the tradition can feel stressful.

FAMILY, FRIENDS, & FUNCTIONS

Growing up I attended a lot of family functions. I grew up in a large family and holidays were spent hanging out with 40+ relatives. We had our own immediate family time, but every Christmas from my childhood was spent going to at least one large family function.

Now, as an adult with a husband and three kids of my own, it’s sometimes a challenge to figure out what family gatherings we can attend. Between my family events, my husband’s family events, gatherings with friends, the kids’ Christmas programs, and work parties, the December calendar gets pretty full.

Sure, celebrating can be really fun, but when too many celebrations hit the calendar, it can be very overwhelming. Sometimes this overwhelming feeling can come from being too busy, while other times, the stress of family functions is simply because being around family during the holidays is too hard. We all have such different experiences when it comes to family—being sensitive to this when we approach family situations during the holidays is a must.

CAN WE HAVE IT BOTH WAYS?

CAN WE ENJOY THE HOLIDAY SEASON IN A HEALTHY WAY?

CAN WE AVOID THE STRESS?

The answer to all of these questions is YES.

We know the holidays can be exciting and equally busy, but that’s why, more than ever, we need to be on guard for these trigger traps. Holiday triggers are lurking around every corner bidding for our attention. Stress seems to take over more easily this time of year. With stress comes anxiety, often followed by depression, and before long, we are back to using our old coping behaviors just to get through the season. This year, let’s not allow this to happen.

Boundaries are so important this time of year. We can’t give into the mentality that, “It’s okay because it is Christmas. It’s just something for this time of year.” If we give into that mindset and forego a boundary set in place, we are setting ourselves up for failure. We need to use the tools we have in place to keep us in recovery and moving toward health throughout the holidays. We also need accountability with people who will help us survive the triggers of the season.


My kids have the cutest Christmas book that we’ve read since my oldest was a baby. The whole book talks about all the fun things at Christmas and then at the end of the book it says, “All of these things are really nice, and superduper fun. But Christmas is much more than that—It’s all about God’s son.”

This is such a good reminder for all of us. The holiday season is exciting but full of trigger traps. Focusing our eyes on Jesus and being mindful of his grace in our lives is key to surviving this season. We can live in God’s truth, arm ourselves with the boundaries we need, and enjoy the holidays in a healthy way.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NIV)

REFERENCES

1. *Schaefer, A. & Yasin, K. (2016). Experts Agree: Sugar Might Be as Addictive as Cocaine. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/experts-is-sugar-addictive-drug#1.