By: David Lee Sexton, Jr.
It is almost that special time of year when the air gets a little colder and our hearts get a little warmer. The holiday season brings with it more than its fair share of joy, but the holidays can also be a very stressful and sometimes a depressing time for many people. The holiday season has the tendency to magnify the entire emotional spectrum, resulting in possible increases in both positive and negative emotions (“A Holiday Advisory”, 2014). During this time, it is easy to feel pressured by the expectation to have grandiose holiday celebrations, complete with resplendent feasts, festive decorations, and dazzling gifts for all of your loved ones. Couple this with the possibility of intensified negative emotions, such as sadness or guilt that can be brought on by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and you have a potential recipe for emotional spending (Young, 2014; Sathicq, 2017).
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
According to Young (2014), SAD is characterized by depressive-like symptoms that coincide reliably around the holiday season; these symptoms can be brought on by a variety of factors, such as sadness over being apart from family, but they manifest in ways so extreme that they make it difficult for those experiencing SAD to function normally. Young (2014) indicates that symptoms can manifest themselves in ways very similar to depression, but sometimes individuals may even experience anger and lash out at loved ones.
Emotional Spending to Cope
Sathicq (2017) examines the ways in which emotions, specifically sadness and guilt, can influence emotional spending behavior. When sad, individuals may spend money buying something they believe will make them feel better. Sathicq indicates that this association solidifies early in our lives through the rewards our parents gave us to make us feel better when we were young, like an ice cream cone following a scraped knee. This quick gratification serves to distract us from the root cause of our sadness by offering a temporary boost in mood (Sathicq, 2017).
One of the strongest influences of emotional spending is perhaps guilt. Sathicq (2017) provides the example of parents who do not get to spend as much time as they would like with their children due to their jobs compensating with material goods. The motivating factor behind this relationship, according to Sathicq, is shame, which results in extremely pervasive motivation to avoid or escape when experienced.
Sathicq (2017) indicates that recognizing these emotions and the ways in which they affect your behavior can be a powerful tool for managing your spending. When feeling sad, consider if what you are buying will address the real problem or just provide a Band-Aid. For guilt, do not use expensive gifts as a way to remedy a mistake you’ve made; instead, apologize and commit to changing the behavior that led you to make the mistake (Sathicq, 2017).
It’s All about Expectation
It is unavoidable to feel pressured during the holidays. However, perhaps one of the best techniques to ensure your emotions do not get the best of you is to adjust your expectations. You do not have to have the “perfect” holiday. Research suggests that holiday expectations rarely sync with reality, as individuals usually do not rate a holiday experience as good or as bad as they expected it to be (“A Holiday Advisory”, 2014). So, show yourself some mercy and understand that the holidays do not have to be “perfect” to be beloved.
A holiday advisory for your emotions. (2014). Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 22(3), 6.
Sathicq, L. (2017). Are you an emotional spender? Good Health (Australia Edition), 62-64.
Young, J. L. (2014, November). Winter blues: It could be seasonal affective disorder. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/when-your-adult-child-breaks-your-heart/201411/winter-blues-it-could-be-seasonal-affective
This post was written by David Lee Sexton, Jr. of the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development team on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.