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Managing Holiday Stress

In Great Britain the word "holiday" has the same meaning as vacation. Many Americans would find this comparison laughable. For most of us, the holidays come with our own "to-do" lists.

Too often we take holiday stress for granted. What's worse, we often have higher expectations for this season than for any other time of the year. Planning for the holidays can leave us feeling impatient, cranky, and — in some cases — depressed. When the realities of day-to-day life conflict with our efforts to make the holiday season perfect, stress results.

Pulling in the reins on holiday stress

Are your expectations for the holidays realistic? Asking yourself this question is the first step to managing holiday stress. List on a piece of paper what you expect from yourself and your family during the holidays. Hidden within these expectations you might find your potential holiday stressors — the things particular to you that can cause stress.

Under each item in the list, write down what changes you can make to prevent or defuse stress. Adopt changes that will be most helpful to you. Avoid holding on to unrealistic goals, such as creating the most enchanting holiday atmosphere. Remember to include your own needs. Here are some examples:

Giving the perfect gifts

  • Ask people what they want instead of scouring the earth to find the perfect gifts.
  • Shop early, when there is more of a selection.
  • Stick to your gift budget.

Planning family get-togethers

  • Buy prepared foods, instead of cooking everything from scratch.
  • Ask others to bring their favorite dishes.
  • Cook and freeze foods ahead of time.

Scheduling time with family and friends

  • Simplify holiday commitments and traditions. Discuss with your family which traditions are most important to you and to them. It's okay to re-evaluate past traditions.
  • Allow time for yourself. Remember to do things that you enjoy.
  • Avoid time crunches by making plans to visit some friends and family soon after the holidays.
  • Don't over-schedule yourself. Allow enough time to relax and recover after visiting with others.
  • Tell family members about your commitments so you are not struggling against their expectations.
  • Travel after rush hour. When driving long distances, give yourself time to stop and rest.

Pausing before the holiday spread

  • Avoid overeating and overdrinking, especially alcoholic beverages.
  • Avoid starving yourself in anticipation of eating at holiday parties. This approach can lead to eating too much of the wrong foods.
  • Continue exercising and watching your diet.

Managing your time

  • Set priorities and let go of impossible goals.
  • Stop to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
  • Don't spend all of your time planning activities for your family. You might end up feeling drained and unappreciated.
  • Take the time you need to finish tasks that are important to you. Don't try to complete everything at once.
  • Ask others, including the kids, to help you complete chores.
  • Rest when your body tells you to.

The holiday blues

For some, the holidays can be a depressing time. Feelings of sadness, loneliness, and anger can intensify when contrasted with the joy expected of the holidays. Factors that can contribute to holiday depression include:

  • Associating the holidays with unresolved family issues or a painful childhood
  • Ignoring feelings of sadness, loneliness, or depression in an effort to maintain "holiday cheer"
  • Facing the loss of a loved one with whom you have shared the holidays
  • Having unrealistic expectations of family and friends
  • Having an expectation that you "should" feel good
  • Being away from family and friends
  • Feeling isolated from others
  • Reflecting on losses or disappointments over the past year
  • Coping with changes in family obligations, particularly after a recent marriage or divorce
  • Drinking more alcohol, which is often more readily available during the holidays (Avoid drinking alcohol to ward off negative feelings. Alcohol can intensify depression.)

Coping with the holiday blues

  • Try something new. Take a vacation with a family member or friend.
  • Spend time with people who care about you.
  • Volunteer your time to help others. Spending time with those in need can help you feel less isolated.
  • If you are religious, take time to reflect on the spiritual significance of the holidays.
  • Try to appreciate the good things you have now instead of focusing on the past.
  • Stay active. Get out. Go for a walk. Window shop.
  • Accept feelings of sadness or loneliness. These feelings might not go away just because it's the holidays.
  • Get help if you need it. Don't be embarrassed to ask for help any time of the year.
References

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/3/2012...#4388