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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Strategies for Managing Stress at the Holidays

If you are prone to anxiety, the holiday season can be stressful. Feeling  stressed may interfere with the ability to be mentally present with family members and to enjoy the fine food and break from work.  Your anxiety may be about work, finances, family, travel, or entertaining. You may feel pulled in different directions or unable to get everything done that is expected of you. You may not have prepared far enough in advance, leading to last minute panic about getting everything ready in time.  If you are alone or away from extended family during the holidays, you may feel lonely and anxious about how to celebrate. Below are some common sources of anxiety and coping strategies to manage them better.

(1) Too Many Demands
As it gets closer to the end of the year, you may feel anxiety at not meeting work goals. our work goals. Work may have piled up or you may have procrastinated and now we're running out of time. You may face unexpected demands because others have been procrastinating too. The crowds and all the people on the road make it harder to get anything done. You may be planning festivities, sending out cards, or shopping for gifts, all of which distract you from working. These days, not everybody will have the whole holiday period off of work. This can lead to envy or resentment when you think that everybody else is out celebrating or family members may be disappointed by your absence.

(2) Finances
Many people are stretched financially these days. Property tax season seems to come all too soon and there may be presents to buy, plus the cost of entertainment or travel. Try to make choices about money that reflect your family's values and priorities and that take into account the realities of your situation. Children enjoy spending engaged time with parents more than they do expensive gifts. One or two special gifts is all that is needed. kids don't need hundreds of toys to play with. Cooking together with kids can create special family memories without much cost. Cut travel costs by going by car, staying with friends or relatives, or taking advantage of special deals. To reduce anxiety, make your choices and feel good about them, without feeling guilty or second-guessing yourself. And have realistic standards. Your holidays can be good enough. They don't have to be perfect!  Most importantly, try to enjoy the moment and the company of friends and relatives or the break from your regular routine. Reflect on your blessings such as health and family and take time to feel gratitude.

(3) Crowds and Travel Delays
Unfortunately, there is often nothing you can do about these sources of stress except planning to do shopping early and booking the first flight of the day. If you face unavoidable lines or delays, this is a good time to use distraction or be mindful. Accept that there's nothing you can do about the situation and try to stay in the moment and relax. Bring a book to read or some games for kids to play. Or use the time to call a friend or make a to do list. Alternatively, you can plan a staycation and avoid all the travel stress. If you suffer from panic attacks or agoraphobia, try to minimize exposure to crowds and practice coping strategies such as deep breathing or challenging negative thinking.

(4) Coping Strategies

To cope with anxiety, say to yourself "What's the worst that can happen if I don't get this done in time?" Most of the time, the consequences will be bearable and not the end of the world. Although this isn't a desired outcome, it's survivable!  You may be able to negotiate deadline extensions. If this isn't possible, you may be able to get work done by delegating, paying for services, or asking for help from others. You can divide tasks into essentials like ordering the turkey versus less essential tasks such as folding the napkins perfectly, and prioritize the essential ones. Planning your time and taking advantage of 20-30 minute breaks between appointment to get small tasks done will prevent things from piling up. Remember to breathe and stretch at regular intervals to reduce muscle tension. Try not to miss your time at the gym or your exercise. Aerobic exercise can improve your mental focus amidst all the distractions. Reducing perfectionism and just getting things out is another useful strategy for less important tasks. Its not important to have perfect handwriting on every holiday card or to send cards to every acquaintance. Also, remember that the point of the holiday is to feel gratitude for what you already have, so make sure you take some time to check in with yourself and count your blessings.

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