Holiday stress relief: Plan ahead, be flexible and stay happy, healthy
BY JASON ASHLEY WRIGHT World Scene Writer
Thursday, November 01, 2012
11/01/12 at 8:54 AM
Find more helpful tips from local mental-health experts
Halloween is over, but the upcoming holidays can be scary for some.
A time of family, food and fellowship can segue to frenzy before you even buy the turkey for Thanksgiving or jot down your Christmas shopping list.
But you can lessen your stress ahead of time if you start planning now and prioritizing, mental-health experts suggested.
It may help to remember that being stressed is a choice, said Lisa Cromer, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Tulsa. Realize "this is the best I can do."
Families should plan ahead, Cromer said - not plan ahead to be stressed or miserable.
When it comes to the cause of stress, it's generally that feeling of "uncontrolability," Cromer said - too much to do in too little time.
Women tend to take on the bulk of the holiday heft, from the cooking and decorating to dressing kids for holiday photos, Deborah Wagner said.
"I've seen a whole family occasion nearly fall apart because, at the last minute, Mom takes out those dress pants for her son, and they're two inches too short - and, at the last minute, there's a panic," said Wagner, a licensed psychologist whose book, "The Fifth Decade: Is It Just My Life or Is It Perimenopause?" ($17.95, Morgan James), published Oct. 1.
Many tasks can be managed more easily by preparing in advance and getting as much out of the way as possible, Wagner said - tasks like pulling out those aforementioned dress pants or other kids' outfits a month before important photos to make sure buttons aren't missing and shoes still fit. Or maybe it's buying gifts now so you're not rushing around the weekend before Christmas.
What's it to you?
Plan ahead even better by setting your goals for the holiday, Cromer said, be it Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas.
"Is it about commercialism?" she suggested people ask themselves. "Is it about family time? Does it have a religious meaning or spiritual meaning?" Your honest answer should be the focal point of any decision-making.
By focusing on the family or spiritual significance, for example, you may be less likely to get caught up in the busy demands of the season and its financial trappings, said Pat Morgan, a licensed professional counselor with Parkside Psychiatric Hospital & Clinic.
Is it about food? Focus on cooking and delegate the shopping - or, perhaps, get a baby sitter while you're shopping so you don't have to keep up with your kids.
Into all the mall mayhem? Delegate the cooking, or go out to eat instead of having everyone over.
If you want to cook, but the idea of having a 10-course meal stresses you out, ask yourself how many courses are OK, Cromer said. Look at your menu and see what would be calmer for you. Does Uncle Bob expect mashed sweet potatoes? Ask him to make them or to pick some up on the way.
"What's more important," Cromer said: Bob getting potatoes or you not being stressed?
Instead of having everyone over, book a restaurant around the holiday, Wagner said. Everyone who wants to come, can; everyone can pay for their own immediate family; and - perhaps best of all - no one has to clean up.
The great divide
Divvying time is one of the least favorite aspects of holiday stress among Wagner's patients, she said.
Families will spend the holidays looking at their watches, anxious about making it to this grandparent's house, then that one's. For blended families, when Mom and Dad have both remarried, it's even more taxing.
You may also want to see friends, especially if you're traveling to your home town. So ask yourself, "What am I going to feel good about if I do?" Cromer said - because you can't always do it all.
To see old friends, send out an email and say you'll be at a certain restaurant from 2 to 4 p.m. or something like that, Cromer said. It may be a little inconvenient for some of them, but it can spare you some hassle.
When in-laws "push and pull" to see their kids and grandkids, it can enter the marital relationship in a profound way, Wagner said.
So, instead of trying to decide which in-laws you're going to see on Christmas Day, either invite everyone over to your house or plan a special night beforehand with one side of the family - perhaps even two nights for each side so you can have Christmas Day to yourself, spouse or partner, and kids or pets.
For kids' sake, try to keep a regular schedule, said Cromer, who acknowledges that can be incredibly challenging at the holidays.
But children who don't adjust well to change may get cranky or have meltdowns, Cromer said. With little kids especially, all the holiday excitement can be overwhelming, so maintaining their regular bedtime can help.
Have a nap or "quiet time" at 2 p.m., Cromer said - this goes for adults, too. It's a great way to decompress.
Too many people wait until they are "under the gun" to deal with any problems, whether it's the holidays, depression or daily stress, Wagner said.
"If people approach emotional health as a whole-health issue, then they'll be better off when those really stressful times come," she continued. That means maintaining a regular exercise routine and healthy diet, including cutting down on caffeine, highly refined foods, and high-sugar foods and beverages.
Incorporate into your daily life regular ways to decompress, she suggested, like meditating or beginner's yoga.
"It could just be taking a bubble bath or having time with your friends," Wagner said.
Coping with holiday stress
"Our time, not things, is the great gift we give to ourselves and to our families and friends," said Lisa Sparks, a licensed professional counselor with Parkside Psychiatric Hospital & Clinic.
She and her colleagues at Parkside offered a slew of suggestions for handling holiday stress.
Don't over schedule yourself with more than you can do. "Concentrate instead on enjoying the moments in the here and now, and the time being with loved ones," Keith Lehman said.
Set personal boundaries when it comes to commitments - "being sure not to obligate yourself to too many things or assuming too many responsibilities," Amanda Spriggs said.
Keep your holiday spending within your ability to pay for it. If your budget is limited, think of making something for a family member, friend or others, Pat Harter said.
"Personal gifts, such as making dinner for a friend or loved one, will likely be more meaningful and remembered longer than a purchased gift," Harter said.
Set realistic expectations for yourself. Realize that no holiday is going to be perfect, Kathryn Bishop said.
"Take shortcuts when possible so you have time to enjoy the holiday," she continued. Don't feel like you have to do everything yourself.
For example, consider asking everyone to bring a dish to dinner, or buy some items already prepared. Forget about wrapping all the presents and putting ribbons and bows on them; use pretty holiday sacks instead. Let children help with wrapping and preparing gift cards.
"Making these small changes will allow you more time to spend with friends and family instead of becoming exhausted by trying to do everything yourself," Bishop said.
Original Print Headline: Holiday stress relief
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