Coping With Holiday Stress

While the holidays are seen by many as a joyful time, they can also be a stressful time for many people, particularly women (who tend to feel particularly responsible for the family like shopping, cooking, and holiday celebrations) and lower middle income individuals (who tend to struggle to find the in extra income to afford the holidays) according to the findings of a 2006 survey on holiday stress conducted by the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner research group. While different people experience stress differently, stressed individuals often report symptoms of fatigue, nervousness, sadness, headaches, indigestion, and muscle tension, just to name a few. Increased stress may also lead to a reduced ability to cope with frustration; others may complain that the stressed individual is more irritable than usual. This certainly can put a pall over the holiday season.

Many people engage in activities that they believe help them cope with stress, such as increased eating, increased consumption of alcoholic beverages, watching television and sleeping more than normal. While these activities can have an immediate effect they may result in long-term negative physical and psychological effects (e.g., increased weight, depression).

So, what to do? The American Psychological Association Help Center (www.APAhelpCenter.org) suggests paying attention to what is causing stress and then taking action that does not worsen the situation. Suggested stress-busting actions include:

Reduce/manage holiday activities. Be realistic with holiday goals for the amount of time you have. Consider paring down some of the activities. Recruit help. Prepare foods ahead of time.

Relax! Several brief time-outs during your busy day may help lower stress. For example, while shopping sit down and focus your attention on your breathing and away from the hustle and bustle of shopping. Become aware of any tension in your body breathe into that tension on the in-breath and breathe out from that tension on the out- breath. Engage in this “being” activity for 2 to 3 minutes as a way to relieve yourself from the “doing” activity that is taking up most of your time. Other relaxation activities include meditation, prayer, exercise (walking, yoga), reading and participating in a religious service.

Take care of yourself. Be aware of tendencies to control/micromanage holiday events. Unrealistic expectations of your responsibilities and/or the behaviors of others most likely will increase your level of stress. Also, the holidays may be a time of remembering not-so-pleasant incidences. If you, or someone close to you, becomes aware of symptoms of depression or anxiety you may want to talk with someone you trust (e.g., a minister or a mental health professional).

Financial stress. It is no secret that we are experiencing difficult economic times. The holidays can add to an already stressful financial situation. Discussing your financial situation with a financial advisor may help you design a financial plan for the holidays (as well as for the rest of the year).

Have fun! Get together with others (friends and family) who are supportive and fun to be with. Engage in a fun activity or two (remember sledding?).

Many people look forward to the holidays as a time of good cheer. They are, 1st and foremost, a joyful time. Managing the stress of the holidays will most likely enhance your ability to enjoy this “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”