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Coping with Financial Stress During the Holidays

By Barbara Pedalino, PsyD

FinancialWe hope that holidays will be joyous occasions—a blend of spiritual joy and lively times with family and friends. No one intends to be Ebenezer Scrooge. “Bah Humbug!”

However, the holiday season can create many stressors. In addition to your daily responsibilities, there is gift purchasing, parties, baking, decorating, and the list goes on until a major culprit emerges—financial stress. The result may be anxiety and depression, which we know is unhealthy and contraindicated for enjoyable holidays.

When finances are limited, it is understandable to feel saddened that holidays are celebrated differently than you had hoped. Your traditions may be sacrificed. Wrapped presents may be sparse. Your self-esteem may be diminished.

Celebrating differently can still be okay—even good.

Consider your coping behaviors. Sometimes when people experience financial stress they gravitate to unhealthy means of self-medicating to cover up undesirable feelings. They turn to alcohol, drugs, smoking, compulsive shopping, gambling, overeating and other negative choices. These may seem good in the moment; however, this only results in further financial stress. Worries compound and trouble sleeping ensues from which mood, immune system and decision-making are compromised. Less money remains in the budget for proper self-care, necessities and monthly bill payments. As debt grows, credit cards get maxed out, finance charges sky rocket, and the financial stress of the holidays can feel insurmountable.

There are many positive ways to enhance your holidays with the important people in your life without encumbering yourself with financial stress. Acknowledge your feelings and reframe your perspective to think about what you can do to mitigate your stress rather than focusing on what might not be possible. Following are some ideas you can draw from that may be suitable for your situation or may spur ideas of your own:

  1. Discuss with your loved ones their thoughts and feelings regarding limited funds for the holidays and what they truly value during the season. Brainstorm how they would like to celebrate, given your financial constraints. They may have ideas for free activities like touring holiday lights or watching movies at home.
  2. Re-evaluate what you consider are musts and what things feel like pressure you would like to forgo. It is okay to say no, especially if it reduces stress.
  3. Budget for all of your holiday expenses, with a cushion for something you may have missed. If you plan carefully and discipline your spending, your sense of control and mastery should rise and stress should fall.
  4. Volunteer. If you have children, they can learn the wonderful gift of giving and compassion. While this is not costly, it does enrich the soul.
  5. Check out community calendars for free concerts or festivities in which you can participate.

If you implement prudent steps yet discover that financial stress persists, give yourself the gift of professional help. A financial advisor and/or a mental health specialist to assist with your emotions and coping skills could provide the stress relief to enhance your holidays. 

Dr. Barb is a licensed clinical psychologist in Palm Desert whose interest in self-esteem spans all ages and can be reached at (760) 702.0878.

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