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Adam’s Apples – Dealing with holiday stress

By James Mack Adams

Christmas is truly a joyous time. Tis the season to be jolly, etc., etc. However, some psychologists and other professionals who deal with mental health issues are of the opinion the Christmas season can be one of the most stressful times of the year. Many of us can attest to that fact.  Who among us has not felt at least a little panicky as the big day looms ever closer and we think about all we still have to do to get ready? We might even be tempted to throw up our hands and shout, “Bah! Humbug!”

Psychologists tell us that as the holiday nears, anxieties can increase, and family relationships can be tested. Certain questions demanding answers keep us awake at night. For whom should we buy gifts? How can we pay for them without going into debt? Do we need to buy new decorations? Who should we invite to Christmas dinner? Should we invite Uncle Charlie? He will no doubt imbibe in too much Christmas cheer and become obnoxious. What groceries and other items do we need to stock for the holidays? We need to start planning Christmas dinner.  Do we have the material we need to make the kids’ Christmas pageant costumes?  You, the reader, may add your own questions and concerns if you wish. I’m sure you have some not mentioned here.    

I will not lay claim to any expertise as to the causes and prevention of holiday stress, even though I have struggled with it at times. Fortunately, the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics have posted some rather good advice about managing holiday stress. Much of what follows is taken directly from those references.

Family relationships are always in play, but they can become more of a problem during holidays.  Even though they may not live up to your expectations, try to accept family members and friends as they are. There will be more appropriate times for airing grievances. Chances are they may be also coping with stress, or even depression.

Make a budget and try to stick to it. Don’t try to impress family and friends by giving expensive gifts if you know you can’t afford them. There is some truth to the saying that it is the thought that counts. Here are some gifting alternatives you might consider. Donate to a charity in someone’s name. Give homemade gifts. Draw names for a family gift exchange. Have a ‘white elephant’ gift exchange. These alternatives have been tried in my family in past years, and they work. You might also consider planning a family holiday get-together at a favorite vacation spot.  My family did that one year. It worked.

Try to efficiently manage your time. Set priorities and don’t set what could become impossible goals. It is OK to ask family members, even the kids, to help you complete necessary holiday chores.

Planning and preparing the family Christmas dinner is possibly one of the most trying and time-consuming holiday tasks. It is certain there is nothing like sitting down to a delicious home-cooked holiday meal. However, you might just give some consideration to buying some prepared foods, instead of making everything from scratch. Cook and freeze foods ahead of time. There is nothing wrong with asking others to bring favorite dishes to share.

For many of us, one of the most difficult words to say is, ‘NO.’ Taking on too much responsibility can be overwhelming and therefore lead to stress. Friends and family will understand that we can do only so much and can’t participate in every holiday activity. Once again, ask for help.

Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. That is important. Give yourself a timeout. Take an occasional breather during all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to de-stress. Try to clear your mind by taking a walk, listening to soothing music, or reading a good book. Do something you enjoy. That is good advice for any time of year.

Sure, this is a season for food, fun and family. That is as it should be. It is also a time for another ‘F’ we sometimes overlook….. ‘FAITH.’ If we concentrate more on the true meaning of the Christmas season, we can perhaps look forward to less stress.

From my family to yours … MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL.

And as Tiny Tim said in Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ “God bless us, everyone.”