11/26/10 — Don't let holiday stress get you down

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Don't let holiday stress get you down

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 26, 2010 1:46 PM

The cooking. The cleaning. The kids. The shopping. The bills.

The holidays.

With disrupted schedules, family responsibilities and the million and one other things that make the season bright, it's no surprise that some people get a little down in the dumps during Thanksgiving and Christmas, licensed professional counselor Machelle Bass said.

As the owner of Mount Olive Counseling, and director of student counseling services at Mount Olive College, she sees many patients who are feeling especially stressed out around the holidays. That's often because they feel out of control of their lives, or face situations that aren't the norm at other times of the year, she said.

But there are ways to keep a lid on the pressure -- even if your in-laws are in town -- and actually enjoy the season.

Feeling more in control is a quick way to get a grip, Ms. Bass said.

"If we focus on what we do have control over, it automatically drops down the stress level," she said.

It's easy for people to take on too many tasks during the holidays, adding one volunteer job after another, until the holiday calendar seems too full. Saying "no" to taking on new responsibilities is a way of managing time so that everyone has a chance to enjoy, not just survive, the holidays.

"No can be very hard to say," Ms. Bass admitted, but phrasing it gently can help keep tempers cool. "Try not to take on more than you can handle," she advised.

Early morning or late night shopping sprees take their own toll, and not just on shoppers' wallets. Sleep disruptions are common at this time of year due to travel and Black Friday sales, and people shorting themselves on sleep tend to feel grumpier, short-tempered and stressed. If sleep disruptions are on the schedule, adjust your hours to sneak in a nap, Ms. Bass suggested.

That's especially important for kids who are home on vacation, she added. Children who are used to a normal schedule of going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, likely won't react well to having that schedule disturbed. Too much sugar, mixed with too many late nights, and all the Christmas excitement, can combine into a hyperactive, grumpy child, Ms. Bass said.

To keep kids -- and parents -- from climbing the walls, monitor sweets intake, keep to the normal sleep schedule, and most importantly, give them a chance to just be children.

"Take them to the park, let them burn off some of that energy," Ms. Bass said.

Getting plenty of veggies and fruit, too, as part of a balanced diet is always a good idea for adults, too. And so is joining in the fun and games, once in a while, to blow off some steam.

"Go ahead and be a kid for a little while, have some fun," Ms. Bass said.

Many families have house guests for the holidays, which can also disrupt a household's normal operations and add more stress. Taking a few minutes out of every day, no matter how busy it is, to relax and regroup can also help. If most of the rooms are full, the bathroom is the one place in nearly any household that a person can be sure of getting a few minutes of privacy. Writing in a journal or taking a bubble bath are things many people find soothing, Ms. Bass said.

"Try to find time for yourself. Take time out just for you," she said.

Planning fun activities to get people out of the house, such as taking a trip to the Cliffs of the Neuse, or just seeing a movie, can also dissipate some of the holiday stress, she suggested.

For some people, the problem isn't that the household is too full, but that it seems too empty. Maybe it's too expensive to travel to visit family, or maybe a death in the family left a person without a close relative nearby, for example.

It's easy for people to feel alone during the holidays, especially if they've recently suffered a loss, but there are always lifelines, Ms. Bass said.

"There is a lot of support out there if anybody is feeling lonely or alone," she said. "Reach out, ask for help. They certainly don't have to spend the holidays alone."