Mind Matters -- December 2003
Written by Ron Sterling, M.D. and Published in Northwest Prime Time Magazine

Holiday Perspectives


    Dear Dr. Ron:

      I am not looking forward to the holiday season. As part of a large extended family, I am usually overwhelmed with things to do. On top of that, this year I am just not feeling up to the season's stresses since my mother died 15 months ago. I know a lot of people have difficulties at this time of year. Any suggestions for us? Signed -- Wishing for Personal Peace.

    Dear Wishing:

      There is no doubt about it. The November and December holidays give us significant emotional challenges. One of the most famous stress-measurement tests -- the Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale -- rates "Christmas" as one point higher for stress than a minor violation of the law. Even when we have mostly recovered from the death of a loved one, the winter holiday season has a way of reminding us of losses.

      Here are a few attitudes that have worked for me to make the season a little more fulfilling. I call it my four R's -- Be Realistic, Give Respect, Reach Out, Remember the Real Reason.

      Be Realistic

      For those of us who have bought into the need to buy extravagant gifts or to try to solve long-standing relationship problems, we need to learn to respect both our own and other people's limitations, and be realistic. Prioritizing and letting go are good exercises for overachiever types. This may mean sending out fewer but more meaningful holiday cards. For some families, this may mean establishing gift-giving rules, such as limiting gifts to one or two per person.

      Give Respect

      Respect is the opposite of expect. Respect means honoring the current situation and not trying too hard to change it for now. It means accepting each person's needs and individual ways of celebrating or not celebrating. There are many folks who have lost loved ones or who have experienced illness or trauma. They feel lousy, and the holiday season is not going to cheer them up.

      Respect means embracing the gifts that come our way. Respect for our own feelings may mean limiting our exposure to family members who are rude or obnoxious. It may mean making sure we have a friend we can call if our family get-together becomes too much for us to handle.

      Reach Out

      Reach out for support, reach out to care, or reach out for one new experience. The holiday season is toughest on those of us who feel lonely and rejected. Reaching out for support can be almost impossible when we are down. So, if you can muster up the nerve to ask for support, go for it. If not, consider reaching out in some other way.

      Reach out to others by volunteering some time (go to SeattleWorks.org or call 206-324-0808). Or, reach out for one new accomplishment or new experience this holiday season. When we advance some part of ourselves, we feel better, even if it is simply going to a poetry reading, or to a museum or church we have shied away from.

      Remember the Real Reason

      No matter what our religious or spiritual beliefs may be, there is a theme to the holiday season of giving to others, whether through gift-giving or through acts of kindness and consideration. Remembering the essence of the season should allow us to give up that race for the best parking place, the best gift, the best place in line, the best tree, or the best party. Keeping the essence of the season in mind can keep us not only mostly sane, but often even smiling. -- Best wishes, Dr. Ron.

        Author Bio:

        Ron Sterling, M.D. is a 64 year-old General and Geriatric Psychiatrist with a private practice in Seattle. He invites you to e-mail him at with any questions about mental wellness or emotional, relationship, or aging concerns. He is the only person who reads e-mail sent to Dr. Ron. Please be assured that your questions and identities are completely confidential and protected. For more information about Dr. Ron and for resources related to senior mental health, please go to SeniorMentalHealth.org. Read our Disclaimer.

        Thank You for Stopping By!

      Have a great day!


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RON STERLING, M.D.
General Psychiatry with Specialization in Adult Attention Deficit Disorder
SeniorMentalHealth.org
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Updated October 7, 2007
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