Holiday Stress Survival Guide

Holiday Stress Survival Guide

November 29, 2011

The holidays are upon us.

Chestnut roasting, eggnog quaffing, turkey carving and hall decking — there's plenty of reasons to be jolly this season. But for some Americans, this time of year may be less joyous and more burdensome as financial, relationship and time pressures make an already-trying year even more difficult — leading to an increase of stress and depression.

Chris Berger, owner of northern Colorado-based Foundations Counseling, says his offices typically see a spike in clients' stress concerns around the holiday season — particularly regarding money worries and family issues.

"At anytime over the past 50 to 100 years, economic pressures tend to increase over the holidays because of the gift-giving and gift-purchasing, which can be a burden to any family," said national certified counselor Berger, who received his clinical counseling master's degree from the University of Northern Colorado. "Because of the current economic conditions of the country, that additional burden becomes more significant."

"The other factor is people end up spending time with their family, a time that they may not be accustomed to. Many times, family communication can break down over the holidays. And between the economic pressures and the family pressures, we definitely see more stress, more depression, more anxiety."

Common symptoms of stress include loss of appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia, irritability and loss of concentration. Although our bodies are built to handle acute bouts, Berger says, research indicates long-term chronic stress can lead to heart attacks, strokes and even cancer.

However, all is not lost.

"Stress is manageable and something that needs attention," said Kim Wilcox, director of UNC's Counseling Center. "Stress, especially around this time of year, has a significant impact on individuals, and if we're not able to take care of that, it can lead to more serious physiological symptoms. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources that can help you take the necessary steps to decrease stress."

Though Berger and Wilcox said there are some biological, genetic factors that may cause certain individuals to be more susceptible to stress, the majority of causes can be treated and/or prevented with a few simple remedies, mostly based on cognitive behavioral therapy:

Organize your life: With all the activities, tasks and obligations of the season, it's easy to find yourself under a crunch, which can lead to unnecessary stress. The best way to avoid this situation, Wilcox said, is to simply have a plan. Set aside specific days for shopping, decorating and other activities to avoid time-induced pressures.

"Being organized is really helpful. Not only budget-wise, but time-wise, family-wise, knowing the demands ahead of time and to have a game plan as to how you will face the holidays," she said. "Many people have a hard time saying no, so I think trying to figure out what you really can accommodate and do around the holidays can be really useful to reducing stress. If you don't have the time, you don't have the time. The same goes for money: If you don't have it, don't spend it."

Get outside: It's important to note that there are also physiological components that lead to stress and depression; the most common is seasonal affective disorder, also known as the "winter blues." This occurs because of the shortened days and less sunlight, which, according to Berger, can elevate stress levels.

"With less sunlight during the day, the regulation of our bodies are also affected," he says. "Take time to go for a 20- or 30-minute walk outside, breathe in the fresh air, try to relax."

Take personal time: Between shopping, cooking and visiting loved ones, some people may have a difficult time indulging in some much-needed personal time. Taking a few moments in the day to conduct a "self-inventory" is an easy way to treat and prevent stress, Berger said. When individuals begin to notice symptoms, it's important to set 10 or 15 minutes aside to gather their thoughts.

"It can be really helpful just to have some time each day, even if it's for 15 minutes, where you're just by yourself and able to breathe and have a moment to really be centered," Wilcox said. "That can help you so much to really get you through the rest of the day. We're over-scheduled because we really live in a fast-paced world. Everything is just go, go, go, go. And we don't take the time we need to just be, and be mindful of how we're feeling."

Have a support group (people to talk to): With busy schedules and cold weather, it's easy for communication to break down among friends and family. However, Wilcox said, spending time and talking with a social support group — friends and family — can be cathartic. "Talk therapy can be very helpful — being able to speak to somebody and being able to release some stress by talking to them for 40 or 50 minutes," she said. "There are also other avenues like seeking professional help and letting it all out. Communicating is a wonderful way to deal with stress."

Engage in self-care: Although this tip is the most basic and obvious, Berger said it's also the most ignored, as the overindulgence and cold weather conditions of the season make it easy to abandon self-care.

"Get outside," Berger said, "Fresh air does wonders to clear the mind. Simply get moving. Stroll through the park."

Both counselors recognize the season's events make it easy to throw caution to the wind and ignore moderation, but in order to minimize stress during and after the holidays, it's vital to maintain healthy habits.

"Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all," Wilcox said. "Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity."

Remember what the holidays are really about: It's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and it becomes increasingly easy to forget why this period is called "the most wonderful time of the year." It's not about extravagant consumption or stress-inducing obligations, and once people remind themselves of that, many stress factors will fall by the wayside, the counselors say.

"I would suggest people think about the true meaning of the holidays," Berger said. "The true meaning of the holidays isn't just about an economic incentive to buy, buy, buy or spend, spend, spend. It is about spending time with loved-ones. The holidays are supposed to be a time to disengage, time to relax and smell the roses."

By Joshua Espinoza

Read the Original article from the Greeley Tribune here

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