The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

UTRGV School of Medicine

"At Christmas, play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year."

– Thomas Tusser, 1524-1580

Does it? Does Christmas come but once a year? Bah, Humbug!

I arrived from Cuba in New York City in 1961, right smack in the middle of the so-called “holiday season.” All was abuzz with vendors, roasted chestnuts, ice skating, twinkling trees, hot chocolate and lots of smiles (yes, even hardcore New Yorkers smile this time of year) amidst some tears.

Back then, I thought my family’s tears were because some of us were missing – back in Havana, or elsewhere.

But I was wrong. While many look forward to the holiday season – family, friends, fellowship, and even some well-deserved downtime – some have bits of distress, uneasiness, anxiety, sadness, physical problems, and unnecessary struggles even with those they love the most. That is what some call the Holiday Blues.

But why get the blues?

No matter your beliefs or religious affiliations, the holidays are meant to be like a beautiful dream, with loving images, thoughts, emotions and sensations that have both philosophical and religious connotations. They are meant to be enjoyed.

But that is not true for all of us. It was not until sometime in 1984, while I was in Houston, that as a family we saw the “Sesame Street Christmas Special,” which featured the song “Keep Christmas with You All Through the Year,” and it soon became a family favorite – along with “Elmo Saves Christmas.”

It comes to mind again now because today is Dec. 21 and the song, recorded in 2014 during the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s 2014 Christmas concerts, premieres tonight on PBS as a holiday special.

As I prepared for this newsletter, I had thought about doing something on our admissions process for the School of Medicine. Then, by chance, someone said, “Why not do something on Holiday Blues?” I have done it so many times before that one legitimately could say I have “Holiday Blues Burnout Syndrome.” Then my wife mentioned that she had blocked off for us to watch the PBS special, as our family’s wanna-be-Texans begin arriving for the holidays.

Voila! It struck me then. Tusser got it wrong and the Muppets got it right! There are a gazillion tips to remedy the Holiday Blues. What are they all about? How do you prevent problems and misery for yourself and your loved ones? Those tips are all at least partially wrong. Again, it’s all about the Muppets, and advocating to keep that interpersonal warmth and good will every day.

It does not have to be Christmas, Chanukkah, Kwanza or Diwali for things to seem overwhelming; that can happen any day of the year. UTRGV’s first commencement has just concluded. There is continual pressure to perform well and to succeed. UTRGV and the School of Medicine want to compete for the best students and for research dollars, so we can do the best we can for our students. We ourselves create a good amount of the stress that brings us down, so it is not hard to see why we get discouraged all through the year – not just during the holiday season, with its added stressors.

For some, struggling to stay motivated, not feel down and avoid stress is a daily struggle. Recharging our mental batteries is important. What motivates you in work or in life? How do you put things into perspective? How do you get out of a rut?

Unlike “Psychology Today,” I don’t have the answers for you. Those questions are for you to think about, to determine the answers that are true to you.  There may be many good suggestions out there for coping with holiday stress, but they may not be a good fit for you. You are the one who knows how hard you work throughout the year; you are the one who sets your goals and dreams. So you are the best guide to your well-being and success.

If there is one thing that I will suggest, it is that you remain flexible. As my wife always tells me, “Life is imperfect, so why worry about it.” Whatever does she mean? Why RP2 of course: Remain Pliant and Retain Perspective.

As we bring 2015 to a close, on behalf of the UTRGV School of Medicine, we send best wishes to you and all for a new beginning, a fresh start and a brighter future as you resolve to work on RP2 in 2016 and beyond.

And please don’t worry if you can’t get it down right away. I have been working on it during 40 years of marriage, and I am still tweaking it every day!