How to practice ’safe stress’ during the holidays

Sunday, November 14, 2010

WASHINGTON - Those who feel stressed, lonely and anxious during holidays can take a breather, for experts have new tips on how to keep such negative feelings at bay and not let them affect you.

E. Christine Moll, of the Canisius College in Buffalo, said suicide rates rise 10 percent during the season.

She noted that there are three areas that can trigger holiday stress or depression:

Relationships. “Relationships can cause turmoil, conflict or stress at any time. But tensions are often heightened during the holidays. Family misunderstandings and conflict can intensify - especially if you’re all thrust together for several days,” she said.

Finances. “Like your relationships, your financial situation can cause stress at any time of the year. Overspending during the holidays on gifts, travel, food and entertainment can increase stress as you try to make ends meet while ensuring that everyone on your gift list is happy,” she said.

Physical demands. “The strain of shopping, attending social gatherings and preparing holiday meals can wipe you out. Feeling exhausted increases your stress, creating a vicious cycle,” she said.

However, she also offers some tips on how to help prevent normal holiday depression from progressing into chronic depression:

Acknowledge your feelings. “If a loved one has recently died or you aren’t near your loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness or grief. It’s OK now and then to take time just to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season,” she said.

Seek support. “If you feel isolated or down, seek out family members and friends, or community, religious or social services. They can offer support and companionship,” she said.

Be realistic. “As families change and grow, traditions often change as well. Hold on to those you can and want to. But understand in some cases that may no longer be possible,” she said.

Set differences aside. “Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion,” she said.

Stick to a budget. “Before you go shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend on gifts and other items. Then be sure to stick to your budget. If you don’t, you could feel anxious and tense for months afterward as you struggle to pay the bills,” she said.

Plan ahead. “Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make one big food-shopping trip. That’ll help prevent a last-minute scramble to buy forgotten ingredients - and you’ll have time to make another pie, if the first one’s a flop. Allow extra time for travel so that delays won’t worsen your stress,” she said.

Learn to say no. “Believe it or not, people will understand if you can’t do certain projects or activities. If you say yes only to what you really want to do, you’ll avoid feeling resentful and overwhelmed. If it’s really not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time,” she said.

Don’t abandon healthy habits. “Don’t let the holidays become a dietary free-for-all. Some indulgence is OK, but overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt,” she said.

Take a breather. “Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do,” she said.

Rethink resolutions. “Resolutions can set you up for failure if they’re unrealistic. Don’t resolve to change your whole life to make up for past excess. Instead, try to return to basic, healthy lifestyle routines. Set smaller, more specific goals with a reasonable time frame,” she said.

Forget about perfection. “Holiday TV specials are filled with happy endings. But in real life, people don’t usually resolve problems within an hour or two. Something always comes up,” she said.

Seek professional help if you need it. “Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for several weeks, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. You may have depression,” she said.

Moll said to remember that one key to minimizing holiday stress and depression is knowing that the holidays can trigger stress and depression.

“Accept that things aren’t always going to go as planned. Then take active steps to manage stress and depression during the holidays. You may actually enjoy the holidays this year more than you thought you could. Just remember, for the holidays and beyond…Practice Safe Stress!” she said. (ANI)

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