Holiday Stress Tips From The Experts

December 10, 2015

Christine Kephart of Luthersburg shops with a list at the DuBois Mall. Lists help eliminate stress when so many thing are happening during the holiday season.

Tis the season for stress.

Within the charm and warmth is a lot of running around, baking, cooking, scheduling, shopping, thinking about the perfect gifts and normal day-to-day chores. (That laundry still doesn’t get done by itself.) 

What is stress? “When you face a dangerous situation, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity—all functions aimed at survival,” according to the National Institutes of Health. That is good stress when there is danger.

However, those same nerve chemicals that occur with long-term stress can cause problems. “Your immunity is lowered, and your digestive, gastrointestinal and reproductive systems stop working normally.” 

Different people may feel stress in different ways. Some people experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger and irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold, and vaccines, such as the flu shot, are less effective for them.

Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder and other illnesses, according to Lori Rancik, RN and case manager of The Women’s Health Center of Penn Highlands Healthcare.

What brings stress?  Well, it starts early.

“Many Americans anxiously await the onset of Christmas shopping - a date that seems to get moved forward each year as more and more retailers have their ‘Black Friday’ commence on Thanksgiving day and early-bird sales start before that,” John Lobb, PhD, at Penn Highlands DuBois Behavioral Health Services, said. 

“Although bargains can be found, consumers need to be cautious as the effort to spend beyond one’s means while hunting for that “perfect” gift can bring on unnecessary stress when the credit card bills start coming in January.”

Researchers have studied the spending habits of consumers for many years and the effects excessive spending has on the stress levels of consumers. Seventy-five percent of those in the 2007 Stress in America Survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, or APA, admitted that money is a source of stress.  In a previous study, the APA concluded that the holidays compounded pressure on individuals that further contributes to the experience of stress.

“People try to craft the perfect holiday for their family and friends,” Lobb said. “They do so by preparing a memorable meal, buying expensive gifts, elaborately decorating their homes and trying to recreate in many cases memories of Christmases past. All this tends to result in breaking the family budget and casing additional distress which can lead to anxiety and depression before, during and after the holidays are over.”
What can you do?

“This is not to say that we should be a humbug like Ebenezer Scrooge and forsake the holidays. It is healthy for us to share in the holiday spirit by donating to the less fortunate, spending time with family and friends, and even buying gifts,” Lobb said. “However, it is important to set limits on everything and not over-spend and not wear yourself out emotionally and physically.”

To prevent the desire to craft the perfect Christmas at a cost far in excess of what we can stand, keep in mind the following:

Set reasonable expectations for Christmas and the holiday season. While gifts may be at the top of your list, make sure to include all of your expenses —postage, holiday cards, party favors, wrapping, home decorations, etc. Even little purchases can quickly add up.
Shop smart. Last-minute holiday shopping can put a strain on your body and your bank account. Get an early start on shopping and take time to compare prices. Remember: meaningful gifts matter most, even small ones. 
Plan ahead. Holiday items are typically reduced up to 50 percent right after the season. Shop now and take the worry out of next year’s decorations. Less stress, more savings.
For believers, remember that Christmas is a religious holiday. Try not to get swept away in the pressure to overindulge and overspend.
Some of the most memorable moments are those spent with your family playing a game or engaging in a family activity.  A Christmas trip to Disney World or some tropical beach would be very memorable, but if it takes years to pay-off the bill, wouldn’t it make more sense to simply live within your means and enjoy your family close to home?

Rancik also reminds you not to over-indulge to reduce stress. Eat healthy meals, even if it is a simple salad or a sandwich during the busiest times. Avoid the easiness of fast food while out and about. Take along a snack of nuts, raisins, a granola bar or water.

Drink wisely. While it’s okay to raise a glass for the next toast, don’t forget that beverages have calories, too! Eggnog, hot chocolate, cocktails and other delish drinks can add up quickly. 

Also, a little exercise goes a long way. Carving out just thirty minutes of physical activity each day can help maintain your weight and help you focus, she said.

If you feel the holidays are still overwhelming, there is help. “Sometimes it becomes necessary to sort things out by consulting a professional in the mental health field,” Lobb said. “When we try to recreate past Christmas memories and fail to achieve that special feeling, when we feel guilty about not buying that special person a gift that they will long remember, or for any reason that creates holiday distress, talking to someone trained to help can result in redirecting your thoughts and helping you to eliminate that holiday distress.”

Behavioral Health Services are available throughout Penn Highlands Healthcare. For more information, call PH DuBois Behavioral Health Unit at 375-6379. Other Behavioral Health Services are available for those with geriatric mental health disorders at the Senior Transitions Unit at PH Brookville at 849-1845, Generations at PH Elk at 788-8876, Bright Horizons at PH Clearfield at 768-2184.