How the Happiest Season Can Spur Holiday Rage

ByABC News via logo

Nov. 26, 2006 — -- It's supposed to be the season of sharing and giving, but long lines at the stores and jammed parking lots can cause a lot of stress this time of year. So 'tis also the season of skyrocketing sales and explosive tempers.

It's become such a problem that psychologists have even given it a name -- "holiday rage."

What was once annoying and then aggravating has now escalated to full-on anger. And the shopping season has just begun. From over-the-top, blinding Christmas lights to annoying relatives and all-out meltdowns, we've all have our moments around the holidays, when enough is enough.

For some, the stress associated with the hustle and bustle of the season turns them into scrooge.

"They have sense of urgency. They try to control things that are uncontrollable," said Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D. and director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy. "They get themselves into a real problem over the holidays and create problems for other people."

One self-professed Christmas curmudgeon, Paul, says all the unwanted trimmings that go along with the season literally make him sick.

"I would feel very shaky, very sweaty, the chills, anxiety," he said.

Paul has been in therapy for three years, working to fend off his inner Grinch.

"My holiday rage is everything as a whole -- my environment, my family, my work and everything that pretty much surrounds me," he said.

There are a number of factors that contribute to angst around the holidays. Braving the crowded malls while trying to stay on budget, the average American spends $800 during the holidays, and one in three will rely on credit cards, according to the National Retail Federation.

Four in 10 Americans blame holiday stress for incidents of road rage, according to

One's own home can go from sanctuary to Grand Central Station with the invasion of relatives and the pressure to reach an unrealistic perfection.

"Holiday rage does happen quickly -- like that," Leahy said, snapping his fingers. "That's why I ask people, 'Inoculate yourself to the rage.' In other words … 'Practice what your rage will be and how you will change it.'"

For Paul, a little work has gone a long way to make the holidays less about negativity and more about cheer.

"It's really easy to be caught up in it and allow yourself to be frustrated," he said. "It's a matter for me to organize that circle of chaos around me … and put it in perspective to remain calm."

You are not going to be able to control things. You are not going to achieve perfection. Knowing that takes the pressure off.

Don't take traffic personally; People aren't there to block you on the highway. Remember the holidays are only temporary and go by pretty quickly. They're only once a year.

The season is about forgiveness and being thankful.

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