STRESS MANAGEMENT DURING THE HOLIDAYS
by Janet Frank, Ph.D. Article originally appeared in Gainesville Family Magazine
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How many holiday gatherings can you attend in one month without feeling overwhelmed? If you find yourself asking yourself this very question, you are not alone!
Many of us experience “holiday blues,” ranging from a sense of increased stress to major depression. These feelings can be brought about by many factors, including increased stress and fatigue, unrealistic expectations, too much commercialization, or inability to be with family (or too much family!). Increased demands of shopping, parties, and house guests can also contribute to stress.
Common stress reactions during holidays can include headaches, irritability, overeating/overdrinking, and sleep trouble. Holiday blues can also affect some people who are sensitive to fewer hours of daylight. However, many of these feelings can be prevented, and if they were already present to begin with, they can be managed and eased.
Here are some tips for managing your own holiday stress:
1. Start planning early. Doing your shopping piece by piece throughout the year prevents the large accumulation of bills that comes from doing it all at once. It also allows you to shop at your leisure, and to avoid the holiday crowds.
2. Take some time with yourself to consider what your history with the holidays is. If it’s consistently stressful, give some thought to what keeps you doing the same thing year after year.
3. Establish realistic goals. You do not have to attend every party or stay the whole time. You do not have to find the perfect gift for everyone. You do not have to sample every hors d’oeuvre for fear of offending the host. Every person is an individual. Do as much as you are comfortable with.
4. Limit drinking. Alcohol is a depressant, so it will not help you if you already have a case of the blues. Furthermore, it’s empty calories, which can contribute to holiday weight gain, another source of stress. Try drinking non-alcoholic punch, water, or juice.
5. Do not feel obliged to feel festive. For many people, having to offer an annual update on the progress their lives and careers at holiday gatherings can be painful if things are not going as well as they hoped. Do not force yourself to express specific feelings. Honor the feelings that you have inside you. If you have recently experienced a loss (e.g., breakup, loss of a job, death, or even thoughts of September 11), tell people about your needs. You will not bring people down by doing so, and you are not responsible for their feelings. If you need to confront someone with your problems, begin your sentences with, “I feel...”.
6. To relieve stress, know your spending limit and stick to it. Try to enjoy activities that are free, such as concerts or looking at lights. Window shop. Do not be afraid to say no to your children!
7. Furthermore, consider other ways to structure this time for your children. Set a limit on what you will spend for them to give gifts to friends or classmates. Arrange car pools to ease the burden of playing chauffeur to parties. When taking your children into a store, tell them before you go in what you expect of their behavior and what the consequences will be if they do not follow directions (e.g., “When we are in the store, I expect you to stay by me, keep your hands to yourself, and use an inside voice. If you do not do these things, we will leave the store.”) Follow through. At parties or gatherings, remind small children about the basic expectations you have for manners, such as use of please and thank you.
8. Be sure to take care of yourself. Beef up simple indulgences such as hot baths, candles, phone calls to friends, movie rentals, time spent in hobbies, and getting enough sleep. If you are having company, hire a maid service to come clean your house. The expense will be well worth the time saved. If you are an exerciser, don’t stop. If you don’t exercise, consider starting a program, very slowly and gradually, with the guidance of your physician. Even a brisk walk around the block can re-energize a tired body and mind.
9. Practice altruism. Instead of big gifts for others, buy smaller gifts and donate a portion of your budget to the needy. Sometimes reflecting on those less fortunate helps us regain perspective about how lucky we are and how commercialized our holidays can become.
10. Don’t lose sight of the real spirit of the holidays, which is about enjoying and being thankful for each others’ company.
IF SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS EXPERIENCING HOLIDAY BLUES:
1. Try to involve that person in activities, but don’t be forceful.
2. Be a good listener. If they express depressive thoughts or feelings of worthlessness, be supportive. Let them know you are there and willing to help them seek professional help. Never challenge or deny their feelings. Show them this article!
3. Be aware that holidays can be difficult for some people, especially when reality doesn’t measure up to their expectations. Help people establish what is realistic and what is not.
4. Familiarize yourself with local resources such as crisis hot lines, mental health professionals, or mental health centers if you have particularly high concerns about someone (including yourself).
Holiday blues can sometimes carry over into the New Year, if someone becomes sufficiently exhausted and stressed. Do not hesitate to seek mental health treatment if mood problems persist!
(Some tips in this article adapted from the Center for Disease control and APA websites)
Happy and Healthy Holidays!
Dr. Frank wrote this article during her tenure with Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida Gainesville, Florida and it was published in Gainesville Family Magazine. Visit our Articles and Archives section for more articles.