Help lessen your stress dur­ing the hol­i­days

Strate­gies to help lessen stress dur­ing fes­tive sea­son

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michilea Pat­ter­son mpat­ter­son@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @MichileaP on Twit­ter For more healthy liv­ing sto­ries in­clud­ing recipes, visit the Fit for Life web­site at pottsmer­c­fit4life.com.

Buy gifts, shop for food, send Christ­mas cards, dec­o­rate the tree, put up the lights, and make travel plans are just a few of the items that make the list and are checked twice dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son. Be­tween the “Merry Christ­mas” and “Happy Hol­i­days” sen­ti­ments, this month is also a time for added stress from too-long hol­i­day lists or other emo­tional feel­ings that arise.

Stress is not un­com­mon and in some cases can ac­tu­ally be good for the body. Eus­tress is pos­i­tive stress where peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence ben­e­fits to their health, per­for­mance or emo­tional well-be­ing; whereas dis­tress de­scribes anx­i­ety or pain.

Symp­toms of un­healthy stress in­clude sleep­ing too much or not enough, eat­ing too much or a loss of ap­petite, be­ing ir­ri­ta­ble with loved ones, and just gen­er­ally feel­ing un­happy or de­pressed, said li­censed clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Sharon Kelly, of Vil­lage Psy­chol­ogy in West Chester.

“So it’s any­thing that’s out­side the realm of what would I be do­ing if I felt re­ally happy, com­fort­able and calm. Any­thing out­side of that spec­trum means maybe I’m not deal­ing with this so well,” she said.

Too much stress can lead to ma­jor de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety dis­or­ders and even phys­i­cal is­sues like heart dis­ease, said li­censed pro­fes­sional coun­selor Bran­don Bal­lan­tyne, of Read­ing Hospi­tal Cen­ter for Men­tal Health.

Be­low are some com­mon rea­sons peo­ple may be overly stressed dur­ing the hol­i­days.

AN EMO­TIONAL TIME FOR SOME

Bal­lan­tyne said so­cial gatherings and fam­ily hol­i­days can be es­pe­cially hard for peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing grief or loss.

Troy Brindle, di­rec­tor at Spring­field Psy­cho­log­i­cal, said the rea­sons for hol­i­day stress varies but of­ten in­volves an emo­tional or sit­u­a­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. Dif­fi­cult life sit­u­a­tions such as the loss of a job, a re­la­tion­ship breakup, or re­lo­cat­ing away from fam­ily can all re­sult in emo­tional tur­moil dur­ing this sea­son, Brindle said.

WIN­TER BLUES

He also said peo­ple can have a dif­fi­cult time ad­just­ing to colder tem­per­a­tures dur­ing this time of year and the shorter days. Sea­sonal Af­fec­tive Dis­or­der, also known as SAD, is a de­pres­sion that’s comes from the changes in the sea­son.

“Sea­sonal Af­fec­tive Dis­or­der or changes in cli­mate can also be a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor that boosts some­one’s feel­ings of de­pres­sion or sad­ness,” Brindle said.

ONE IS THE LONELI­EST NUM­BER

The hol­i­days with all of its em­pha­sis on com­ing to­gether in a so­cial en­vi­ron­ment can lead some peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence feel­ings of lone­li­ness, said li­censed pro­fes­sional coun­selor Re­becca Green, of Read­ing Hospi­tal for Men­tal Health.

FAM­ILY, IT’S A LOVE/HATE RE­LA­TION­SHIP

Where lack of fam­ily can cause some to feel lonely; see­ing fam­ily mem­bers can lead to anx­i­ety for oth­ers. Kelly said fam­ily is a big rea­son for stress around the hol­i­days. She said there are all types of fam­ily dy­nam­ics and peo­ple may be pre­par­ing them­selves for judg­ment or crit­i­cism from cer­tain fam­ily mem­bers.

“You know based on his­tory you’re kind of go­ing into that fight or flight mode. You’re on alert,” Kelly said. “Ther­apy ac­tu­ally be­comes a good in­ter­ven­tion for that be­cause you know what’s go­ing to hap­pen so it’s an op­por­tu­nity to ei­ther change you way of re­spond­ing to it or han­dling it.”

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

Kelly said an­other big con­trib­u­tor to stress dur­ing the hol­i­days is spend­ing. Peo­ple with anx­i­ety dur­ing the sea­son may spend more think­ing it will help with those feel­ing but it ac­tu­ally does the op­po­site.

“Spend­ing may not be the cause of the stress, maybe al­most more of a con­se­quence of stress,” Kelly said.

Brindle said it’s very im­por­tant to stick to a bud­get dur­ing the hol­i­days and that spend­ing should be within a per­son’s means.

“A lot of peo­ple this time of year, they overex­tend them­selves. Some­times they overex­tend them­selves be­cause of guilt,” he said adding that par­ents may want their kids to have what other chil­dren have or be over­com­pen­sat­ing for some­thing else.

Now that some of the com­mon causes of stress have been ex­plained, here a few tips to make the hol­i­days smoother so peo­ple can get back to joy­ful noises and peace on Earth.

VOL­UN­TEER

“Vol­un­teer­ing is al­ways a great thing to do,” Green said. She said peo­ple that ex­pe­ri­ence feel­ings of lone­li­ness dur­ing the hol­i­days may find it help­ful to vol­un­teer which can lead to so­cial­iza­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties and cre­at­ing new friend­ships.

GET A HOBBY, GET IN TOUCH WITH THE SENSES

Bal­lan­tyne said learn­ing a new hobby can help peo­ple fo­cus their mind on some­thing pos­i­tive dur­ing the sea­son. He also said en­gag­ing the five senses can be “nat­u­rally sooth­ing.” Peo­ple should pur­sue find­ing plea­sur­able sights, sounds, tastes, touches and smells.

DON’T SELF-MED­I­CATE WITH AL­CO­HOL

Peo­ple that feel un­com­fort­able or anx­ious at a so­cial gath­er­ing shouldn’t use al­co­hol as a so­lu­tion to those feel­ings but find health­ier ways to deal with the sit­u­a­tion, Kelly said.

“You’re just think­ing it’s a way of cop­ing but it just makes it a lot worse,” she said.

KEEP IT HEALTHY

“Work­ing out al­ways helps,” Kelly said adding that ex­er­cise can in­clude some­thing as sim­ple as tak­ing a nice walk to give your­self a break.

She said it’s im­por­tant to phys­i­cally stay healthy dur­ing the hol­i­days by get­ting the right amount of sleep, eat­ing nu­tri­tious meals, stay­ing hy­drated and get­ting reg­u­lar ex­er­cise.

“All this stuff makes you so much more pow­er­ful and more con­fi­dent in han­dling what­ever emo­tional stress that’s go­ing to be thrown at you,” Kelly said.

SELF-CARE

Dur­ing the hol­i­days, it can be easy to think about every­one else but then for­get to take care of your­self as well. Brindle said you should take at least 15 to 30 min­utes each day and do some­thing just for you such as read­ing a book, lis­ten­ing to mu­sic or get­ting a mas­sage.

Kelly said peo­ple should find quiet mo­ments dur­ing the day through tools such as med­i­ta­tion to help man­age feel­ings of anx­i­ety, stress or de­pres­sion.

KEEP THE PEACE

Brindle said some peo­ple may find it dif­fi­cult see­ing cer­tain fam­ily mem­bers dur­ing this time of year but they should set aside dif­fer­ences to al­le­vi­ate stress.

“I think it’s im­por­tant to ac­cept fam­ily mem­bers as they are, not try­ing to have them live up to an ex­pec­ta­tion that you have,” he said adding that stay­ing away from con­tro­ver­sial top­ics is an­other good idea.

PLAN AHEAD

“We know that the hol­i­days come ev­ery year. It’s not a sur­prise,” Brindle said adding that peo­ple should pick spe­cific days to shop and do their best not to pro­cras­ti­nate.

SAY NO EV­ERY NOW AND AGAIN

“It’s okay to say no,” Brindle said.

He said giv­ing a “yes” all the time can lead peo­ple to feel over­whelmed or have feel­ings of re­sent­ment to­ward oth­ers.

TALK TO A PRO­FES­SIONAL

Green said if peo­ple are re­ally strug­gling dur­ing the hol­i­days and hav­ing a very dif­fi­cult time with de­pres­sion then it’s rec­om­mended they seek pro­fes­sional health with ther­apy.

IN CON­CLU­SION

“The hol­i­days are what you make them. There’s a lot of things in your life that can’t change … I think you can al­ways work on chang­ing your at­ti­tude,” Brindle said. “Embrace the hol­i­days and make it your own.”

“The hol­i­days are what you make them. There’s a lot of things in your life that can’t change … I think you can al­ways work on chang­ing your at­ti­tude.”

— Troy Brindle, Spring­field Psy­cho­log­i­cal

MICHILEA PAT­TER­SON — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Two hol­i­day wreaths are dis­played. The hol­i­day sea­son and all that comes with it can be very stress­ful for some peo­ple.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

Par­ents and chil­dren par­tic­i­pate in a yoga class in Pottstown. Re­lax­ing tech­niques such as yoga and med­i­ta­tion are great ways to deal with hol­i­day stress.

MICHILEA PAT­TER­SON — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Gift wrap­ping pa­per and rib­bons are dis­played. In ad­di­tion to good cheer and joy­ful noises, the hol­i­day sea­son can also bring added stress.

MICHILEA PAT­TER­SON — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

A small Christ­mas tree or­na­ment is dis­played. The hol­i­day sea­son is full of ac­tiv­i­ties and sit­u­a­tions that can lead to in­creased stress.

MICHILEA PAT­TER­SON — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Christ­mas lights and wrap­ping pa­per are dis­played. A long hol­i­day “to do” list such as putting lights up can lead hav­ing added stress dur­ing the sea­son.

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