Don't let the season send you into a slump

December 11, 1998|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

The whirl of activity that envelops most people this time of year can spin them right out of a fun and frolicking mood and into a stressed-out frenzy.

"Everyone gets on pins and needles and very much on edge," says Tom Armbrester, a teacher at James Rumsey Technical Institute in Hedgesville, W.Va., who recently led a seminar on stress reduction at the Martinsburg, W.Va., Mall. He provides on-the-job training to high school students, works with employers and trains people in the retail industry.

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One primary cause of holiday stress is lack of rest, Armbrester says. Stores are open longer, so people go shopping after putting in long days at work. Excessive stress can cause difficulty falling asleep, which increases exhaustion, he says.

Financial problems and concerns about finding appropriate presents add pressure, too, Armbrester says.

"It's considered to be one of the most depressing times of the year," a contradiction to the joy the season is intended to evoke, Armbrester says.


Many Christmas carols tout the magic of family gatherings around the fireplace, which is not a reality for everyone. Some may feel pressure to reconnect with estranged relatives or to gather with family members who have physically or emotionally hurt them, regardless of how much dread they feel, says Dr. Lou Lichti, a Hagerstown psychologist. It's OK to stay away from such potentially unpleasant situations, she says.

Those who are grieving the loss of a loved one may not be ready to join in the season's merriment. Lichti suggests they plan something novel - maybe travel to a new place or spend time with new friends - or spend the holidays with people who truly understand their feelings.

The focus of the holiday season has moved away from celebrating religious freedom for the Jewish, the birth of Jesus Christ for Christians and cultural heritage for African-Americans, Armbrester says. Now it's all about decorating, exchanging gifts and attending social functions.

"We've crammed so much into the calendar that it's no longer a celebration, it's a duty," Armbrester says, and when something feels like work, it's no longer fun.

"Everyone is trying to do more than what is humanly possible," agrees Mary Ann Oyler, family and consumer sciences agent with Franklin County, Pa., Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Another factor contributing to the harried feeling of the holidays is the increased demand on people's time, Oyler says. Adults and children are more involved in activities outside the home.

Parents should let their children get involved in holiday preparations, Oyler says. Give them presents to wrap or a part of the house to decorate. The result may not be as neat or elegant as it would be if adults did the work, but the youngsters' excitement about the tasks adds a certain beauty.

Some people equate the stress they feel during the holidays to that experienced when asking for a raise, according to a poll conducted between Nov. 21 and 25, 1996, by Dateline NBC and Prevention Magazine. Of the 1,010 people randomly surveyed by telephone, 41 percent said they felt stressed during the holiday season, while 43 percent said asking for a pay hike caused their nerves to unravel.

Incidents that caused levels of stress to rise even higher were going to the dentist, which caused 51 percent to feel tense, and getting a speeding ticket, which rattled 65 percent of those polled.

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