Everyone knows that Advent, which begins Dec. 2, is supposed to be a holy time of watching, waiting and preparing for the coming of the Christ Child. 

It would be nice if we could enter into a period of spiritual reflection during Advent in the same way that we celebrate the season of Lent. 

But it doesn’t always work out that way. 

Advent wreath

Too often, the pressure of preparing for Christmas leaves us feeling frustrated and frazzled. What should be a season of silence becomes a season of stress. 

Experts agree that we need a little stress in our lives, because a little bit of stress motivates us to get things done. Problems arise when stress becomes overwhelming. We begin to feel panicky and our bodies automatically release stress hormones that affect us physically and mentally. 

There are actually two kinds of stress. External stress is the outside pressure we feel from other people, from images presented in the media and from cultural expectations. Internal stress is the pressure we put on ourselves in an attempt to live up to our own expectations. It’s not unusual to encounter both external and internal stress during Advent. 

When Our Sunday Visitor asked me to write an In Focus article on Advent stress, it was summertime. The days were warm and the leaves on the trees were green. I sat outside one afternoon and started to reflect on my own past experiences of Advent. I was shocked at how quickly I began to feel stressed! 

Thoughts of Advent started my heart pumping and my mind racing. It was as if my whole body was suddenly on alert. I found myself thinking about the many things that I would have to do before Christmas. I actually had to remind myself that it wasn’t Advent yet. I was just thinking about Advent! 

This crazy experience brought home to me how profoundly our culture can intrude upon our spiritual sensibilities. We can get so caught up in preparing for Christmas that we don’t take time to prepare for the coming of Christ. We can actually lose the spiritual significance of Advent in a blind rush toward Christmas Day. 

But there are things we can do to keep Advent stress under control. 

Our In Focus this week offers 30 ideas on how to manage stress during Advent (see Pages 9-12). Some of the ideas are practical and some are spiritual. But they are all focused on helping to relieve the overwhelming kinds of stress that tends to surround us during Advent. 

We also have a special article by Matthew Bunson on Page 14 that offers wisdom from the saints on how to deal with stressful situations. 

We hope that our readers will try some of these tips and let us know if they help them. We can’t completely eliminate stress, but we can make choices that help us to deal with stress in a more positive way. Advent is the perfect time to try it. 

It could be the best gift that you can give to yourself! 

Lorene Hanley Duquin writes from New York. For feedback, write to feedback@osv.com.