Dealing With Holiday Pressure

Katie Young
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Wednesday - December 19, 2007

Brad Klontz, Ps.D.
Brad Klontz, Ps.D.

While children are busy making their lists for Santa Claus, it turns out Christmas is actually on a list of its own - named as one of several stressful experiences a person can encounter.

This “life event survey” in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research ranked Christmas as more stressful than “minor law violations.”

Aren’t the holidays supposed to be a time of joy, peace and goodwill to all? Well, according to Brad Klontz, Psy.D., Hawaii Psychological Association’s 2008 president, the pressure to have a perfect holiday experience can put a tremendous burden on people.

“Things can even get worse during the holidays,” says Klontz. “People tend to have increased depression and anxiety. I think society is selling us this idea that everyone is happy during the holiday season. So we all think this is the way we have to be, too. And then we assume that everyone else around us is happy and having a perfect time, so we wonder what’s wrong with us if we’re not.”

If you are someone who feels increasingly stressed by holiday preparations, here are Klontz’s top five recommendations for how to deal with holiday pressure:

1) Set reasonable expectations for the holidays. “A lot of people think that this is the year they are going to have a perfect Christmas,” explains Klontz. “But the reality is that there are most likely going to be bumps along the way. Whatever unfinished business or issues you have in your relationships will still be there the day before Christmas and the day after.”

You are setting yourself up for disappointment by expecting that all the conflict, pain and loss in your life will magically disappear during the holidays.

2) Identify what stresses you out during the holidays. What situations or events are most stressful for you? Klontz suggests brainstorming actions you can take to make these situations or events less stressful.

For example, let’s say you have two sets of in-laws to spend time with during the holidays. Dividing your time equally so no one gets offended can be an ordeal. Klontz says set up a plan as to when you will be spending time with each side of the family, where you’ll be and who is in charge of what. Share this plan with everyone involved so people aren’t surprised. This alone can preempt a stressful experience.

3) Recognize how you deal with stress. In times of stress, some people have a tendency to drink more alcohol, smoke more cigarettes, overeat, skip meals, or pick fights with loved ones, explains Klontz. He suggests making a list of what you do or don’t do to manage your stress and then determine if what you do is healthy or not.

4) Take care of yourself. Replace unhealthy behaviors with healthier ones, says Klontz. If you are worried about pleasing everyone else, it is easy to lose focus on your own needs and feelings. Take time to engage in enjoyable and restful activities. Talk to someone you trust about your feelings, both positive and negative. Perhaps most importantly, he says, don’t take a break from the normal activities you do to keep you healthy the rest of the year. Keep exercising. Eat healthy And make sure you get enough sleep!

5) Ask for support. Klontz urges people to accept help from those who care about you and will listen to you. If your mother-in-law offers to watch the kids while you shop, or your sister says she’ll help you decorate the house for the Christmas party, say yes! Use the holidays to strengthen your connection with friends and supportive family members. And, if you are still overwhelmed by stress, consider seeking professional help.

(As a side note to women, Klontz says that women actually report more stress than men during the holidays, and women are less likely to take time to relax or manage their stress in healthy ways.)

So take care to keep your stress levels down and your holiday cheer level up. My wish for us all this year is to survive holidays with some good memories to keep and enough sanity left to ring in the new year.

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