Family. Merrymaking. Gift giving. It ought to be so cozy and fun, just like an old postcard. But making it through the next few weeks definitely has its challenges.
The problem lies in the myths surrounding this, the most sentimental season ever. Why do we all believe that those warm, toasty feelings come naturally with the eggnog and latkes?
And this year, in the midst of the retail clamour, there's the added burden that we're all watching our pennies, worried about what the next year will bring.
The piped-in strains of Jingle Bells accompany stress and depression, not to mention the tendency to overindulge. Sure enough, researchers point to a spike in the death rate over the holidays, though U of California sociologist David Phillips rules out rich food and too much booze. His findings suggest that increased mortality may be due to a refusal to interrupt partying to seek treatment, and scaled-back Christmas medical care. Yikes.
Let's survive the holidays, okay?
What the experts say
"Set realistic expectations rather than expecting a Martha Stewart-perfect Christmas. Guard against loneliness. Rushing to see this or that person can often result in superficiality instead of the depth and warmth you expect from the season. Make sure you build in time with close friends or family members with whom you can be yourself. Sometimes we import old scenarios from our family relationships that can undermine a sense of feeling good about ourselves. Be careful you don't get trapped in old scripts. Pay attention to your feelings and know that you can do something about them by having a plan."
RICHARD EARLE, PhD, managing director, Canadian Institute of Stress, Toronto
"Think about what you really want to experience during the holidays. How can you change the parts you don't find enjoyable? Take the edge off stress with Bach Flower Rescue Remedy. Overspending can be very stressful. Instead, choose the amount you want to spend on gifts and stick to it. Everyone needs to re-evaluate holiday spending and feel empowered instead of succumbing to the hype. Meditation helps you to be less reactive. You can ignore annoying comments if you meditated that morning. If you don't have the energy to get through the holidays, try Ribes Nigrum Gemmotherapy. Check with a practitioner for the right dose."
ZORANA ROSE, naturopathic doctor, Toronto
"We looked at what happens with deaths from circulatory and non-circulatory diseases around Christmas and New Year's. We found that deaths from circulatory diseases go up 4.65 per cent above the normal winter increase, and non-cardiac deaths 4.99 per cent. One possible factor is holiday-induced delays in seeking treatment. Others have claimed it might be stress. One way of testing the stress hypothesis was to look at people with Alzheimer's disease. It seems plausible that these people are less aware of the holidays, so if the issue is stress, the holiday peak for these people dying from cardiac disease should be relatively smaller. Instead, the cardiac peak is slightly larger [ruling out stress]."
DAVID PHILLIPS, professor of sociology, University of California, San Diego
"The suicide rate is actually at its lowest in December, but people like to be ironic, so despite all the merriment, there's a lot of talk about people being sad over the holidays. We worry that the press writing about suicide can introduce a contagion effect. People shouldn't be under the impression that suicide is more common during this season. We try to eliminate the myth as much as possible. Still, people need to know that if they're feeling unhappy, they should get help."
DAN ROMER, director, Adolescent Risk Communication Institute, Philadelphia