Tis the season to be … stressed? Coping with year-end anxiety

David Rigby

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It is the time of year when socializing increases - gearing up to New Year. And also a time when work can increase as it is time to finish all the essential tasks for year end. So the stress goes up. Many people spend a lot of time buying expensive presents, going out for fancy meals and creating extravagant food for guests. And stress goes up. Why do they do this? In many cases it seems to be about competition. Who are they doing this for? To prove themselves superior to their friends, relatives or work colleagues?

Around New Year when I was in my teens my parents would invite 30 friends to our home. My father would organize over social games - which were a help for those who were not good at small talk. And the games would be a catalyst for the conversation. My mother, always a good cook would spend weeks preparing some things familiar and some astonishing new dish - always in with the food fashion of the day - provided, being English, the food was ‘recognizable’. No-one else in my mother’s circle of friends ever came anywhere near the variety and quality. Then after about 15 years she decided to stop. She told me ‘I did all this for you’. Apart from the shock of being told this I decided that in reality she did it for herself. I certainly was never asked what I thought and have avoided such events ever since.

So why did she do it? Each of my parents grew up in a very poor working class family during World War Two with parents who worked. For my grandparents food was something to be prepared with the least fuss and eaten without comment. So for my parents the aspiration to prove you were better and could join the lower middle class was the motivation. A world of antimacassars, doilies, napkins (or should I say serviettes) and polite conversation was almost in reach and certainly aspired to. And when my parents got there, they followed all of it. And of course all their friends had started from the same position. All working class with the delusion that middle classness was all about show and being polite. No ‘interesting’ conversations, no upper class words either.

What do I see in the Middle East? The ability of every shop and hotel to offer the seasonal specials. And, regardless of ‘whose’ seasonal special it is, you can watch at least the expats demonstrate their capacity to overdo their own special take on what is on offer.

Does it make them any happier? Hard to know. Does it make them very stressed? Yes it does. With only so much money and time the pressure is on. The least time you have the more you could spend.

Clearly if you want to receive lots of expensive gifts then one way is to give lots of expensive gifts and hope the receiver returns the compliment. You can then play the game of guessing who spent the most. You can also do the same with your children, their parties, their gifts and compare with others.

But if you want to be happier and be less stressed, concentrate on relationships rather than things. Stop trying to outdo your associates. Spend time with family and friends, but also take into consideration those less fortunate. And show appreciation for the acts of kindness you have received during the year.