Got holiday stress? Relax!

Chill out and enjoy a cool yule

Chill out and enjoy a cool yule

December 22, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Here we go again.

It's time for the annual story about holiday stress.

"There's nothing new about it," says Dr. Jude Boyer-Patrick, a child psychiatrist with Brook Lane Health Services.

The holidays come around this time every year.

The media and popular culture present idealized images of the Christmas season - Currier and Ives postcard pictures of what the holidays are supposed to be, says Boyer-Patrick.

Years ago, the hype began after Thanksgiving. Now, she says, it seems that the Christmas promotions start with Labor Day.

Stress is created when you can't achieve what you think you're supposed to, Boyer-Patrick says. Holiday stress is created when expectations are unrealistic - when expectations are based in a storybook vision and not in reality.


It's ridiculous to believe you can totally avoid stress. Stress - to a certain degree - is good. What's troublesome is when stress becomes distress, Boyer-Patrick says.

She cites the Holmes Social Readjustment Scale - a tool used by mental health professionals to measure levels of stress. There are 43 life events on the list, ranked in order of impact.

Death of a spouse holds the No. 1 spot. Christmas - not the generic "holidays" - although further down the line, has its very own place at No. 42.

Ann Wilson, a licensed professional counselor in Shepherdstown, W.Va., says she doesn't know how some people prepare for Christmas all year long.

"I don't get in the mood until the week before Christmas, and then it's too late," she laughs.

But Wilson is serious when she says it's important to think about how you want Christmas to be.

At the original Christmas, the wise men brought gifts, expecting nothing in return, Boyer-Patrick says. "You have to get back to the point of Christmas," she adds.

Boyer-Patrick admits that she likes to receive presents. But she loves to see her husband's face when he opens a gift from her. "That's my joy," she says.

Barbara Bogley, a counselor in the Washington County Health System's Employee Assistance Program, says she's a "Christmas person." She has some practical advice to keep holiday stress at a minimum.

Bogley starts with the basics: Get enough sleep. Eat right.

Give yourself about an hour before bedtime to zone out, to wind down.

Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine, sugar, alcohol and cigarettes - the "no-nos," she says.

Holiday parties - with so many treats - can be a problem. Set some limits. Excessive indulgence will make you feel bad.

But don't skimp on nutrition. So many people skip supper to rush out shopping right after work. Bogley recommends packing a little protein and a vegetable - something easily heated in the office microwave. Take a few minutes to relax and recharge.

Prioritize, Bogley recommends. Make a "not-to-do list" as well as a list of things you want to get done.

Her own trick is to make a list and highlight the must-dos. An alternative is to put the less critical tasks on a sticky note behind a list of higher priority jobs. If you get to them - fine. If not, "It's still going to be Christmas," she says.

Be flexible, Wilson recommends. Feel free to start new traditions. Maybe your family wants to do something to help others. Maybe your children can give a gift to the community by singing in a choir.

Wilson remembers her sons lamenting that she was selling the "homeplace" when she sold the home in which they had grown up. "No," she told them. "Wherever we're together is home."

Christmas shouldn't be just about presents, decorations, parties.

Don't overspend. Get back to basics. Keep it simple. Appreciate what you have. Enjoy the pleasure of being with your family, Boyer-Patrick says.

Slow down, Bogley recommends. Don't stress. Savor.

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