Dealing with holiday stress

(MGN Online)

By Lynn Strauss, Ph.D., LP

Guest Columnist

Based on what we see in the media (television, movies, phones), it would seem that the holiday season is a time of year full of cheer, fulfillment and happiness. In actuality, the holidays are a time of year that at least 80 percent of people find to be extremely stressful. That’s right — the vast majority of people are typically miserable during the holidays!

Understanding this, and changing how we operate during the holidays, can make this time more tolerable. There are many things that can lead to holiday stress. For example:

  • Lack of money to buy presents; requests for expensive presents from others; overspending on gifts
  • Unhappy, cranky family members and loved ones due to their own stress
  • Being exhausted
  • Increased traffic and crowds
  • Increased alcohol or other substance use in self and/or others
  • Overeating rich foods
  • Trying to do too much
  • Too much togetherness
  • Not enough togetherness (missing loved ones, including those who have passed)
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (depression caused by lack of daylight)
  • Lack of exercise due to cold weather or being too busy
  • Perception that everyone else is happy during this time of year
  • Feeling let down by gifts you receive or didn’t receive

Fortunately, there are things we can do to deal with holiday stress. Below are some things that work for different people. Since there’s no “one size fits all” for what works, see if any of these ideas feel like a good fit for you:

  • Set realistic expectations for what you can spend and events you can attend. Set your budget and stick with it.
  • Consider giving an act of kindness or a homemade gift instead of a monetary object. For example, writing a poem or a song for a person or offering to help them with a task.
  • As much as possible, try to take good physical care of yourself (go for a walk, dance, eat something healthy, go to bed on time).
  • When possible, expose yourself to sunlight.
  • If you’re a perfectionistic person, try to let it go!
  • Make lists of things that you absolutely have to get done, and check off things you have completed.
  • Watch a favorite movie or a comedy show.
  • Focus on being thankful for something you already have (good health, a place to live, a loving relationship, a skill or ability) rather than on what you don’t have.
  • Do something kind for someone else (a smile, a compliment, help an older neighbor with a task).
  • If you have any extra time, consider volunteering with an organization that is working to brighten the holidays of others.
  • Try to avoid using alcohol or marijuana to deal with depression, as both of these actually increase depression.
  • Reach out for companionship to a loved one or other support person.
  • Acknowledge your feelings. It’s normal and even healthy to experience sadness and grief at this time of year. Ignoring the feelings may result in them coming out in a way that’s not helpful for you.
  • If you’re around someone who is blowing up due to their own stress, try to separate from them for a few minutes rather than responding. When people are upset, they usually aren’t in a place to hear what we want to say. It usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes for the brain to calm down, at which time you have a better chance of saying what you want to say. Remember, most people who are irritable are actually sad. Sometimes trying to see something from someone else’s perspective can be good for all involved.
  • Take a relaxing breather, such as listening to soothing music or imagining being in your favorite place.
  • Remember that children get stressed, too. Trying to maintain routines, encouraging exercise, offering healthy snacks, and focusing on rewarding good behaviors can help avoid crankiness.

No matter what your belief system, this time of year is meant to be focused on remembrance and love…not on who can buy or receive the most expensive gifts. Quality time with others is often the best gift of all, for others and for ourselves.

If all else fails, just remember: Of course Santa Claus is jolly. You’d be jolly too if you just came off an 11-month vacation!

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Lynn Strauss, Ph.D., LP is a psychologist at Plymouth Youth Center Clinic, a satellite location for NorthPoint Health and Wellness serving youth.

Deirdre Annice Golden, Ph.D., LP, is director of Behavioral Health for NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center Behavioral Health Clinic, 1313 Penn Ave. N. She welcomes reader responses to, or call 612-543-2705.