Avoiding the pressures of New Year's Eve

December 31, 1991|By Susan M. Barbieri | Susan M. Barbieri,Orlando Sentinel

When we're in our teens, the Big Date Night is prom night. When we're adults, the Big Date Night is New Year's Eve.

Not having a date for New Year's Eve can cause anxiety the likes of which we haven't felt since high school. We feel like losers even if we ordinarily see ourselves as winners.

Call me a grump, a party-pooper or a contrarian (I've been called worse), but I hate New Year's Eve because I resent being pressured into making merry. There is extraordinary societal pressure on us to have a good time every Dec. 31 -- no matter what. The artifice that surrounds the ringing in of a new year makes the merriment ring hollow.

New Year's Eve Commandment No. 1: Thou shalt celebrate and like it.

That's not all. One is expected to look ahead and resolve to make major life changes, such as losing weight or giving up cigarettes. There's nothing wrong with changing those things about ourselves that we believe need changing. But we could all do without the artificial pressure to do so on this particular night.

This is why New Year's Eve can be such an emotionally loaded time (so to speak). Expectations are high.

"At New Year's, people are thinking about the past and they're thinking about the future," said David Skinner, an Altamonte Springs psychologist who teaches a course in sexuality. "They think about past losses and relationships, or they're

worried about future relationships. It's a time they often feel very demoralized and under a lot of pressure. . . .

For many people, the thought of beginning another year without a mate is too much to bear. We get pressure from parents who want us to marry and have kids. We are bombarded with messages from a couples-oriented culture to conform. Finally, we say, "Better get out and do something about meeting someone." To loosen inhibitions, we drink.

Social pressures, combined with heavy alcohol use, can act as psychological dynamite on New Year's Eve.

"Alcohol or other substances often amplify moods," Mr. Skinner said, which can make people more depressed or more anxious. "Then they have this feeling that their hopes and dreams have not turned out the way they would like." By the time the New Year's Eve celebrations are over, a lot of people are "feeling pretty depressed."

Mr. Skinner offers these coping strategies for New Year's Eve:

* Spend the evening with close friends to stave off loneliness.

* Stay focused on the present instead of focusing on the past or future. Enjoy the experience you are having with those around you.

* Avoid pessimistic thinking about the future. Many people feel there isn't much hope or that they don't have control over their lives. Avoid those thoughts and try to think in a more positive way about yourself and your future.

* Lower your expectations about this one night. Instead of feeling that this is supposed to be the most exciting time of your life, realize it probably will have some good and bad parts to it.

* Limit alcohol consumption to avoid emotional mood swings.

* Lack of sleep, poor eating habits and inactivity can make you emotionally vulnerable. Fortify body and soul with plenty of rest, food and exercise before partying.

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