Mental Health and the Pressures of Christmas

Back in the sixties a pair of American psychologists called Holmes & Rahe made a scale that they called the “Social readjustment rating scale”.  Events in our lives were given scores from ‘death of a spouse’ at 100 points downwards to lesser events.  Christmas and family celebrations figured on the scale.  You will not be surprised to hear that!!

Enough has been written on the subject of stress to fill more than one sizeable library.  The fact that many companies now employ ‘Stress Busters’ to help their employees cope with stress is a positive step forward, but is also in itself a sad indictment of the state we find ourselves in.  In many respects, stress has been ‘discovered’, and there are not many who would now argue with the figures put out on a regular basis claiming enormous percentage loss in profits to companies due to the effects of stress on employees.  As stress is clearly one of the great obstacles to our personal peace of mind, it is necessary to consider it, even though without specific attention being paid to it, stress levels automatically reduce when life is lived more effectively and peacefully.  You may well have your own method of coping with stress and no doubt that will have an impact on the level of stress experienced.  When personal, internal stress is reduced say by relaxation or meditation, yoga and CBT, and psychological tensions is lessened and interpersonal stress is reduced via more effective communications and positive relationships ‘stress’ as a separate entity no longer exists.

Back in the nineties, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (a native born Yugoslav working in USA, now described as a “positive psychologist”) spoke about ‘stress’ in his book “Flow – The Psychology of Happiness”.  It is useful to consider what he says which is that it is not external fortune or misfortune that determines how a given individual will cope, but the inner resources and ultimately the belief system of that individual that affects everything.  If we believe that we are the victims of our circumstances, we will experience our lives as exceedingly stressful.  Gaining power or control over our lives is not however enough to remove the negative effects of stress.  Pursuing the positive or ‘flow’ of human experience – that experience during which awareness of self and time are lost, Csikszentmihalyi throws light on the reasons we experience the events or circumstances in our lives as stressful. CBT, now highly fashionable in the NHS and started by Dr. Albert Ellis in USA would agree.

How to cope?  Counselling books say ‘acknowledgement is often enough’ (not that it always solves everything, but exactly that – it is often enough).  Try it!

Acknowledge YOURSELF:-

In your mind or out loud say “This is really hard for me.  Let me just do the best I can right now” … or whatever acknowledgement you need.  Give it a whirl. There is much to gain and what have you to lose?

By Sue Washington

Sue Washington has dedicated her life to helping people.  From early days as a school teacher she trained psychotherapists to an exacting National standard.  Her thrust in her later years has been to help people realise their power. You can ask her a question directly at

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