Christmas is upon us. And in order to have a healthy, happy Christmas season, maybe we should do Christmas a little less, rather than a little more.
Without a doubt, Christmas causes enormous stress. Anxiety, depression and suicide rise during the holidays. Clinicians like myself see it every year. It occurs for many reasons, no doubt, but I think exhaustion, unrealistic expectations, guilt and loneliness contribute significantly to the problem.
I’ve seen the exhaustion in the people I love who wear themselves to a frazzle and spend themselves into poverty in order to make sure Christmas is “perfect” — that there are lavish numbers of gifts, unhealthy quantities of food and decorations right out of Southern Living.
This causes physical and emotional fatigue, and it ultimately takes people away from the very thing they should focus on most: one another. It’s hard to relax in the glow of family love when you have to go to Walmart at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve “to get just a few more things.” Ah, things! What a trap they are!
And, invariably, because expectations are structures of our own design (and not God’s), they are never met the way we think they should be. Someone isn’t there for the holiday due to job requirements, weather or illness. A gift isn’t perfect and gets returned. An argument starts, and someone is hurt. Or we miss someone who has gone on to glory and believe Christmas can never be “perfect” again without them.
I’ve also seen plenty of guilt when families come to town and see their aged relatives in a nursing home. They haven’t seen them in months or years and suddenly demand to know why they have deteriorated over time.
Guilt is a powerful force, one that Christians aren’t supposed to wallow in. But it can also lead to the perception that the holidays are a letdown. Guilt is a poison as toxic as any narcotic.
Finally, loneliness is a hard burden at Christmas. It’s hard for the season to feel “perfect” when we feel disconnected and unloved. Especially when what we all want most is connection with one another — a simple call, a dinner, a card to remind us that we aren’t really alone.
All of these things contribute to making Christmas emotionally (and physically) unhealthy. But they don’t have to.
First of all, Christmas isn’t something we can make perfect — it already was, and is. We just have to remember that it’s the birthday of the Redeemer and coming King.
But we can make it happier, and thus healthier, by doing less, buying less, eating less, limiting our expectations, and simply reaching out to those we love as well as those around us who are lonely. I think that’s far more in line with the first Christmas, anyway.
So relax and be healthy — and Merry Christmas!