Health Break | Published December 5, 2005 | Written by David Doll, psychiatric counselor, behavioral health, Mount Nittany Medical Center

Short-Circuiting Holiday Stress

People look forward to the holidays as a time of celebration, joy and goodwill. However, unrealistic expectations, increased demands and over-commercialized holiday hype can lead to stress, depression and, in general, a “Blue Christmas.”

People can find themselves overwhelmed by the demands of the season, worn out by family squabbles and exhausted. If you find yourself overindulging instead of enjoying good food and drinks; having trouble sleeping despite being tired; experiencing headaches or heartburn when you think of holiday plans; avoiding others; or just plain feeling blue, you may have holiday burnout.

To avoid holiday stress, pay attention to the suggestions that follow.

  • Keep your expectations realistic. Trying hard for “the best Christmas ever” can be a setup for frustration and disappointment. Go for simplicity rather than imitating commercialized holiday hype. A simple holiday potluck dinner instead of a full sit-down feast; your own concept of holiday decoration instead of competing with the neighbors; attending a few parties and holiday events rather than scheduling back-to-back social obligations are all ways to keep it simple.

  • Do what you enjoy and believe in. In return, allow others the gift of celebrating in their own way. Be flexible and open to new ideas and different ways of celebrating, but think for a minute about your own holiday values and what is important to you and your family.

  • Make a holiday budget, and stick to it. Easier said than done, but it can help control one of the most common sources of holiday stress – money. Remember the meaning of the season; an inexpensive gift, which shows the giver’s appreciation of the person, is often more appreciated than a costly gift for show. The same goes for parties and decorations. Don’t overburden yourself with a lot of time-consuming work.

  • Ask for help if you need it; delegate responsibilities if you can. One person can’t be expected to “produce” Christmas for the whole family or group. Don’t expect people to read your mind – talk to them about how to help out.

  • Do something for someone else. Whether you prefer donating to a worthy cause, or volunteering with an organization, or offering assistance to an elderly neighbor, charity can give anyone a meaningful reason for the season. Remember those who are alone or have had recent losses. Even a phone call or a card can make all the difference, and you will benefit as well.

  • Give a gift to yourself. Take time for that hot bath, late movie, or good book you’ve been longing for. Don’t feel the need to be compulsive and count calories, but on the other hand, don’t overdo – have that cookie or drink, but a little can go a long way. Make sure to eat fruits and vegetables; give your body what it needs, including refreshing sleep each night. Physical activity can help relieve stress as well – even just parking farther from the store, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking an extra lap around the mall.

Reflect often, talk with others about this holiday and its importance to you, and you can stay on the path to holiday health!

David A. Doll is a psychiatric counselor at Mount Nittany Medical Center.