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ADVANCE Outlook: OT

The Holidays are Here, Oh Dear!

Published November 24, 2010 2:07 PM by Jill Glomstad

You've just survived Thanksgiving, and chances are you're out shopping for Black Friday deals as we speak, because the December holidays are only a few weeks away. All the hustle and bustle of dinners, parties, gatherings with friends, shopping, sending out cards and more can bog down even the most resilient among us.

Stress can make the holidays a lot less merry and bright, but by managing stress, especially before it starts, you can spend more time enjoying and less time dreading this festive season. Letting stress get the best of you will affect you, your friends and family, even the patients you care for at your job.

Some of the tips I've found most useful are:

Learn to say no to yourself. I love craft projects, so one year I decided to make these adorable snowman containers for the women in my husband's family, six altogether. As with most craft projects, things didn't go 100% as planned, and took much longer than I thought. The paint was still drying the morning of the holiday gathering at which I was supposed to give the gifts. The project caused me stress and disappointment for entire preceding week, and in the end I wasn't even that happy with the results. All from an expectation I put on myself.

Compromise. When Aunt Sally invites you to the annual family holiday party, don't promise to whip up your famous pumpkin pie from scratch, the one where you use fresh pumpkin that you roast and puree yourself. Use time-savers like pre-made pie crusts and canned pumpkin. Better yet, go buy the pie. Your family will be happier that you are less stressed and can enjoy the party than if you had run yourself ragged baking.

Manage your expectations. I love to give "perfect" gifts. Of course, it never really happens, but in the back of my mind I tell myself that it's actually possible if I just try hard enough. One year, I made a custom CD for my dad. When I was a kid I remembered how he used to walk around the house singing favorite songs, like "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads and "I Shot the Sheriff" by Bob Marley (though Dad sang the Eric Clapton version). I thought he'd love it. He thought it was a gag gift, like I was teasing him for his song outbursts. I'd been spent so much time on it and gotten myself so invested in his reaction, that when he didn't jump for joy I was crushed. Way to set myself up for disappointment. Instead, try asking your friends and family what they want. You'll worry less, they'll enjoy it more, and everybody wins.

Make stress reduction a family affair. You aren't the only one who gets stressed out during the holidays. You aren't inadequate because you feel like there are aspects of the holidays that you dread or find overwhelming. Talk to the others with whom you spend the holidays and ask them what they feel like they could do without. When I was younger, everyone on my mom's side of the family used to buy each other gifts. It got expensive, and we'd all stress over the shopping and then wind up going home with gifts that we didn't want. One year we talked about it and decided to try a white elephant gift exchange. At first, some of the older members of the family balked at breaking tradition. But we decided to try to make it fun. Each person would purchase a $25 gift card and an additional gift for around $5. It could be something useful, like stationery, or something fun, like a gag gift, or even something homemade. After a few years, everyone is now fully on board. They love the reduced shopping stress and cost, and we all sit around and talk and laugh about the different $5 gifts that everyone brings. We've turned it into our new tradition.

For more resources on coping with holiday stress, check out the following links:

Holiday Depression and Stress from Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association)

Stress, depression and the holidays: 10 tips for coping from the Mayo Clinic

Coping with depression during the holidays from WebMD

Managing Holiday Stress from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration's Family Guide

Managing Holiday Stress from the Cleveland Clinic

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