Stress and the Holidays

Joseph Mark, LMHC, Flagler Hospital

It is truly ironic that during the holiday season, when we should really be enjoying life and those around us, we often feel overwhelmed and frustrated by all the added activities. Visitors and guests, shopping, holiday baking, cleaning, and entertaining, just to name a few things. For most people the holiday season starts before Thanksgiving and continues on through New Year's Day, and all of the extra activities get added to the usual stress of everyday life. If you aren't coping well with the normal stress of life, then the holidays can only make things worse.

In reality we should already be giving thought and effort to managing stress in our lives regardless of the season. This should start with the basics of good health practices and close attention to our emotional needs. It is all too easy to overlook our own health and feelings when we are faced with the responsibilities of family, friends, and career, but it is so very important to care for ourselves, almost as necessary as the air we breathe. So, take a deep breath and consider a new approach to this coming holiday season. Sit back and consider a few changes that can improve how well you manage and enjoy this wonderful time of the year.

To start with, consider that it is important to take care of yourself so that you are better able to meet the needs of others. Then give some thought to stressors in your life that easily "trigger" emotional responses. For many people this can be financial issues, or relationships, but for others it's just the added activities of the holidays. Once you have given some thought to what it is that really gets to you then you can begin to prepare a plan to cope with a healthier approach.

Here are some general suggestions on coping with holiday stress:

1. First of all, try to have realistic expectation and "don't bite off more that you can chew" as the expression goes. A few simple holiday traditions can go a long way, and still allow time to relax.

2. Make a basic plan for the holidays, while still being flexible enough to accommodate others.

3. Stick to a budget. Establishing that budget can be part of the basic plan.

4. Be easy on yourself financially. That's where some of the traditions and spirit of the holidays can help us realize how important time spent with someone is more special than money spent.

5. Decide early to stick to a healthy diet, so that when a special treat comes along you can feel better about indulging…but in moderation.

6. Learn to say NO. Establishing healthy boundaries will give you more time to do what is most important to you. No lengthy explanations or "excuses" are needed.

7. If you already exercise regularly, don't give it up during the holidays. If you don't, then start, even if you just take a walk with someone.

8. Don't isolate yourself. Whether it's walking with a friend or visiting a relative, it is also important to spend time with others.

9. It is always important to be in touch with our feelings. The holidays can bring good memories, but also remind us of sad times. Expressing feeling in an appropriate and safe setting can be very healthy, whether it is with a friend or a counselor.

10. Finally, take time out occasionally and relax. Have fun. Listen to music. Take 15 minutes to yourself and just breathe.

Be active in managing stress so that the holidays don't become just another time that you dread, but rather a time of joy and relaxation.