It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Except when it isn’t.

The rush and excitement of the holiday season can often be woven with lofty expectations and an unparalleled pressure to please. A seemingly inherent need often surfaces to be everything to everybody—and that can take a toll.

“It’s good for anyone to manage their expectations and realize that getting together with family and holiday events might not resemble Hallmark cards,” says Dr. Marcia Valenstein, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Depression Center, in Ann Arbor.

Unrealistic expectations, over-committing, and financial pressures are just a few of the factors that can add to the stress and anxiety of the holidays. The increased demands and activities can lead to additional stress during the holidays notes Dr. Valenstein.

Finding Yourself in the Holiday Mix

We can learn how to gain some balance during the holidays from a military veteran.  “Service” is a theme that streams through the military. Service to one’s country, service to one’s family and a sense of obligation, commitment, and duty—all run especially deep during the holidays. But finding an outlet to serve you is also important.

BRMcDonald-300x198“I think this notion of defining yourself through others is just a reality of military service,” says BR McDonald, a veteran and classically trained opera singer, “but especially during the holidays there is a lot of expectation and obligation. It can be very overwhelming.”

McDonald, founder and president of the Veteran Artist Program (VAP), recounts the reaction of a participant from a recent exhibit. “One of our artists said, ‘having my work up in the Pentagon was the greatest moment of my life.’ Reflecting on that, I think his sense of achievement stemmed from finding a platform to express his own story… his feelings… his perspective. He was lifted.”

The holidays can be an emotionally unreliable time and if you are not finding avenues for creative expression, you are not serving yourself. Taking that message to heart, McDonald has begun to write about his life.

“Tell your story and know that people want to hear it,” says McDonald. “Everyone has a story. There is somebody who wants to hear what you want to say.”

Creative identity gives you a sense of purpose.  “I see it as healing,” says McDonald.

Creativity is an Invitation to Authenticity

Don’t get caught up in the medium, the first step is just to self-identify with being creative, says McDonald. Even if it’s writing something that only one person reads. Focus on your story.

Find a platform for your creativity to flourish—in the garden, the kitchen, the studio. Take your camera for a walk and see what inspires you, or keep a journal bedside to reflect on the day. All offer outlets for creative expression.

“Creativity is what gives sparkle and variety to life,” says Gerard Doyle, an author who writes on living authentically. “Essentially to be creative is to be original, which is simply the ability to think and act independently, something we all strive for and are eminently capable of.”

While there may be no recipe for the “perfect” holiday experience, embracing your creative expression, and helping others find it in themselves, can be a healthy ingredient for a less stressful season.

De-Stress the Holidays!

  • Planning ahead will help take (some of) the stress out of entertaining.
  • Find inexpensive ways to enjoy the holiday.
  • Meditate. It’s not only calming – it will give you a sense of control, over your time, and your energy.
  • Exercise. It’s known to reduce depression and increase energy, well-being.
  • Be mindful of overindulging; whether it’s alcohol or food.
  • Volunteer. The need is great year-round, but emotionally there is no better tug at the heart than giving back during this season.
  • Create your own traditions – it will continue to be anything you make it.