'Tis the overwhelming season, say psychologists. Beware of gift-giving, baking,
family gatherings, decorating and Christmas carols. These aren't sources of joy but of
Trees to decorate, gifts to buy, greetings
to send, cookies to bake. As most of us scurry about preparing
for a colourful Christmas, the psychology industry -- the
Shrinks -- are busy painting it black.
Like their forefather, The Grinch, the
Shrinks look down on our frantic activities, wanting to rob
us of the joy of the season. According to folkloric history,
the Grinch of old stole the Christmas gifts, food and ornaments,
believing them to be the cause of merriment. Modern-day Shrinks,
spreading messages of woe, declare all these to be the cause
of gloom. "'Tis the overwhelming season," they proclaim.
"Beware of gift-giving, baking, family gatherings, decorating
and even Christmas carols, for these are sources not of joy
but of stress."
Whether it is their training, genetic
stock or their eye for business, Shrinks find or create pathos
and pathology wherever they look. For instance, the Mental
Health Association of Colorado cautions that the potentially
pleasant festive activities of shopping, parties, family reunions
and guests can all conspire to cause depression.
Likewise, Ralph Erber, associate professor
of psychology at DePaul University, warns, "Even people
who ordinarily aren't normally depressed may have bouts of
depression around Christmas."
There's more. According to a 1993 survey
by the Children's Aid Society, mothers eager to enjoy their
families having fun may actually be suffering from a "servile
syndrome." Wanting to make sure everyone has a good time,
they risk becoming overwhelmed with chores and end up feeling
dissatisfied, inadequate and depressed.
Dr. Mark Lau, of the Clarke Institute
of Psychiatry in Toronto, believes this excess work, and the
struggle to please everyone, can leave women feeling lonely
and isolated from their families.
Sources close to Shrinks say the media
are complicit in causing these problems as they encourage
us to aspire to enjoy ourselves by advertising that displays
scenes of lavish gifts, wonderful decorations and elaborate
But depression is not our only worry,
it seems. A self-confessed Christmas-aholic, who sought help
for her problem, managed this year to cut out her handmade
chocolates. But she admits she's not yet emotionally ready
to cut out Christmas preparations entirely.
As for gift-giving, well that is the worst
part of Christmas, say Shrinks. From dealing with the natural
"gimmees" of children to finding the "right"
gift for a partner or parent, gift-giving is the ultimate
source of distress.
Of course, the Shrinks have all sorts
of advice on how to handle the incessant pleadings of children
-- don't just say N0!, give an explanation. And, if you want
to prevent Christmas morning from becoming a gift-giving orgy,
spread it out over several days.
Moreover, they say that as parents we
must be aware of expert opinion as to what is good and bad
for children. Spice Girl dolls are bad for pre-pubescent girls
and X-Files Fight the Future Series are bad for boys. Everything
under the tree must be educational, cooperative and wholesome
even if it offers as much excitement as the proverbial chunk
Did you know that there are five stages
of gift-giving? It's true, just like the five stages of grieving
and the 12 steps of recovery. Recommendations are that we
aspire to stage five -- that of spiritual gift-giving where
"the giver recognizes that he or she embodies loving
kindness and cannot help but constantly give and receive in
the oneness of the universe." No need for gifts here,
just good vibrations. Unfortunately, many of us are still
stuck at the immature Stage Two level where we expect to give
and to receive.
If you don't know what type you are, what
stage you are at or what constitutes the right gift for that
special someone, then one Shrink advises not to worry, just
wrap gift certificates.
Now, lest you think the Shrinks should
just shove off, you might show some sympathy for their situation.
It's not easy being a Shrink at Christmas time. Researchers
have found a decrease in the number of therapy office visits
during the days and weeks before Christmas and an increase
of the same magnitude afterward. So, Shrinks warn that the
post-Christmas crash is a more severe problem than the holiday
blues. Naturally, with all those cancelled pre-Christmas office
visits (at however much an hour), they have lots of time to
tell us how awful we are going to feel and how in need we
will be of their post-festive help.
Another a serious and potentially traumatic
problem for Shrinks is how to deal with gifts from patients.
One article in the esteemed Harvard Review of Psychiatry cautions
that they should "balance the risk of missing some unexplored
aspect of the patient's feelings against offending the patient
by transgressing usual social conventions." Indeed, the
nature of the gift is as important as the patient's history.
Perhaps, in Freudian terms, this means that one cigar is phallic
but a box of cigars is just a gift.