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Navigating the Stress of the Holiday Season

The holidays are the very best time to be grateful for all of our blessings, family, and friends. The holidays can also trigger stress, anxiety, and depression as well. It’s easy to appreciate the joy of the food, presents, lights, fables, traditions, and pageantry, but many dread the swirl of family drama, high expectations, and the demands of our consumer economy.

During the holidays, I make extra efforts to enjoy the festivities, while not losing myself and my own desires and lifestyle in the season. In the holiday seasons of 1999 and 2000, my wife Angie and I juggled the holidays with our two families and groups of friends, and we felt like we missed out on enjoying the true essence of the holidays: peace. We knew we didn’t want our life together to include feeling the stress of constantly being pulled in multiple directions. For two years, we missed out on the joy of the season, and we agreed that raising a family during the holidays would be easier without the tug of extended family.

A Time To Start Anew

We got what we focused on, which happens often to us. My employer asked us to relocate 3,000 miles across the country from Baltimore, Maryland, to Portland, Oregon, and in December of 2001, we boarded a plane with our 8-month-old daughter, Katie. We were excited about the new opportunity and thought we would enjoy the adventure. We thought we escaped the chaos of the season, but it had just started.

Angie, Katie, and I spent the Christmas of 2002 alone in Portland, with no family or friends. Angie became depressed because we were alone without family. We bought a Christmas tree for our little temporary apartment and moved it to our new home on December 21, 2001. Angie’s holiday spirit didn’t increase, and she fell deeper into loneliness and despair. We had looked forward to the peace of being away from family, but now she appeared depressed because of our new situation. It was tough watching her dive so deep, but she lost herself in the loneliness just as she had in the chaos.

There was literally nothing I could do to help her. I reassured her, increased our Christmas budget, took the family on seasonal sight-seeing experiences, and poured as much love as I could into our family and our house. Angie was having none of it and couldn’t break free to experience the joy of the holidays.

It Still Wasn’t Enough

We lived in Portland for 10 years, and Angie never truly enjoyed being on our own for the holidays. In fact, she struggled to embrace our life in Portland – especially during the holidays. No matter how unhappy she was, the holidays brought even more darkness. In 2004, we had our second child, Meagan, and regardless of raising two beautiful, loving girls, it was never enough to break her depression and despair.

Angie blamed her consistent darkness on Portland, and in 2013, we moved to St. Louis, Missouri. The holiday season of 2013 was magical, as Angie fully embraced our new home. We used the same decorations, had another big-budget Christmas, attended many local seasonal celebrations, and had no family in the area. But there was a huge shift – Angie chose to have a great holiday season under the same circumstances. This is when we realized that it wasn’t the presence of family, the location, or the chaos or loneliness of the season. The reason for our happiness was that Angie chose to remain present and grounded instead of comparing it to what she perceived would be better. She didn’t allow her mind to create stress that wasn’t there.

Happiness is a Choice

You can always find a reason to be grateful, and you can always find a reason to not be. Happiness is a choice and blaming your mood on external factors puts us in victim mode. But please understand, you are never a victim of your surroundings. You can find peace and appreciation in any circumstance – during the holidays or not.

Here are three things to keep you grounded as you enter the holiday season:

You control how you experience the holidays. Conditions cannot make you happy, anxious or depressed. The conditions of life are what they are; it’s your interpretation and acceptance of them that drive your state of mind and emotions. Once Angie and I realized that we are in complete control of how we relate with our experiences, our lives improved significantly. We thought we needed certain conditions to be happy, but we actually need to be happy in order to enjoy our current conditions. You are in full control of all of it, just like us.

Originally published on Thrive Global.

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