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STLCC Counselors Offer Tips for Handling Holiday Stress

Tips for handling holiday stress

The holiday season is upon us. From now until the end of the year, we are bombarded with a dizzying array of activities, including parties, family gatherings, shopping, meal planning and cooking, cleaning, traveling, etc., etc., etc. 

But the holidays are not the happiest times for everyone. Rather than joy and happiness, the holidays are harbingers of depression, isolation, stress or anxiety for many. 

Though the coming weeks can be difficult, there are ways to minimize the stress and anxiety. Pamela Wilson and Emily Lasek of the Counseling department at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley examine a variety of stressors and offer tips to keep you in a healthy state of mind. 


What are some keys to handling the financial stress of the holiday season? What are some alternative ideas for gift exchanges/meals when money is tight?

Holidays are not about gift giving, despite the messages we are bombarded with this time of year.  Setting and sticking to a manageable budget is important. Avoid using credit, which can have long-lasting effects, for purchases. Additionally, there is a tendency is to overspend when using credit.   

Alternative ideas: Get creative. Find a project to make personal but inexpensive gifts for everyone. Making items like your sister’s favorite pasta or giving time to take your nephew to the movies will be a hit. Tailoring items to the individual and spending the time to personalize them will speak more to your relationship with the other person than any electronic or toy. The internet is full of ideas for food gifts, crafts or services that can help you to make your holiday a memorable one. 

How important is planning ahead to avoid scrambling at the last minute?

Time management is important during the holidays. Stress and time have an inverse relationship.  The less time you allocate to complete a task, the greater the stress level. Last-minute decisions tend to lead to poor choices. For example, hurriedly selecting a more expensive gift than planned or paying for express shipping because you’re pressed for time may significantly increase the cost of holiday gift-giving. Planning ahead allows us to enjoy the holiday season without negative consequences lasting into the New Year.  

What can you do to avoid unhealthy eating/overindulgence with sweets, alcohol, etc., during parties or during your own holiday dinner?

It’s all about moderation. Before going to a party, have a healthy snack so you’re less likely to overindulge. Holiday meals tend to be carb heavy, so remember vegetables as part of your plate. Choose smaller portions but greater variety on the plate. During dinner, focus on socialization, not the food. Give yourself time before going for second helpings. Suggest a walk before or after dinner and dessert. Avoid alcohol on an empty stomach; it will increase your appetite.   

For those who have suffered a family loss, suffer with depression or simply feel isolated, what can individuals do to cope with those feelings? At what point should someone seek professional help?

Many people find the holiday season difficult for a number of reasons. Using positive coping skills every day will help. The effects of holiday stress may not be felt until January so it’s important to continue beyond the holidays. Take care of yourself!  Do not isolate from those within your support system. Use your resources. Share the work. List things to be grateful for each day. Stay with a healthy diet and sleep routine. If you drink, drink moderately. Remember loved ones in fun and creative ways. Reach out to help others in need. Manage your time and money. Expect the normal tensions and have realistic expectations for the holidays. 

Professional help is recommended when an issue starts to interfere in the individual’s relationships or daily functioning. Signs of this may include a change in hygiene, not getting out of bed, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, beginning/increased alcohol and drug use, irritability, etc. Seek immediate help if the individual’s behavior becomes erratic or voices thoughts of death or suicide. 

Families and traditions change over time, and holiday gatherings are not always perfect. What tips would you offer the “perfectionist”? Or simple ways to unwind during the planning process?

Commercials, holiday-themed movies, stores, family and friends all can be sources of pressure to attain “perfection.” Being realistic is far better than trying to reach for the unattainable goal of perfection. Some things you can do to be realistic include: 

  • Change the expectation from perfection to creating memories. Everything won’t go as expected. It will make for good stories later. 
  • Make a plan. Decide what you can do and what you can’t ahead of time, and be upfront with others about your limitations. This can include any of your resources including time and money. Have discussions before the holiday season, especially when it concerns families of significant others/in-laws.
  • Don’t be afraid to maintain a firm “no” to requests that will increase stress. Requests from family and friends can often feel like obligations. Stick to the plan on where you’re going to spend your time, your money and your efforts.  
  • Share the work. Ideas include a progressive or potluck dinner, dividing shopping responsibilities, or having a decorating party. Involving others will make less work, more fun and take less time. 
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