FEELINGS AND emotions during the holiday season often vary more than at any other time of the year. Excitement and happiness may shift to disappointment and sadness in a roller coaster fashion.
Mental health professionals recognize that during the holidays stress frequently increases, especially in individuals who may be having difficulty in dealing with some kind of loss. Feelings of sadness in the absence of deceased friends and relatives may become more pronounced. Depression may emerge due to awakened memories of the past. Nostalgic feelings are often triggered and reinforced by seasonal messages in the music and other symbols associated with Christmas and New Year's.
The strain of economic hardship due to loss of income may be worsened by feeling it necessary to buy gifts, thus squeezing an already tight budget. There may even be feelings of guilt and loss of self-esteem if you can't buy what you used to buy.
Overindulgence in food and overcommitment in schedules translates into unwanted changes and additional stress.
Established routines are often encroached upon to an unhealthy degree; self-discipline seems under assault and threatened. As a result, we shift into a unreal world of externally suggested excesses, causing difficulties with time management, finances and emotional control. These difficulties don't seem to occur to the same degree during other times of the year.
If during this holiday season you want to try something different, here are some suggestions that may help:
* Avoid perceiving the holiday season as a large block of time during which external demands alter established patterns of thinking and behavior that have been effective in maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Instead, let the holidays punctuate rather than dominate this time of the year. Effectiveness and balance can be maintained without being a bah-humbugger.
* Establish priorities, plan ahead, say no when necessary and prudent. Don't be swept away by a tide of excesses and overindulgence. Budget your finances, time and diet. Emerging from the holidays with fewer excess pounds, debts and fatigue will give you a better start for the new year.
* Extra time and money can be spent helping those less fortunate. Brightening someone else's life can decrease unhappy thoughts of one's own past. Exerting the energy and the muscle to pack boxes for the needy, for example, releases built-up tension.
* Reflect on the good that has occurred this year. The world is closer to being at peace; families are together who were apart a year ago. Hopefully, it is a world freer from the threat of nuclear annihilation and one that is better able to tackle other important problems as we learn to live and work together in harmony.
* Take time to reflect on the symbols that make this time of year special. Embracing the true spirit of the holidays can put most other things into the proper perspective.
Dr. Hap LeCrone is a clinical psychologist in Texas who writes for the Cox News Service.