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Avoiding Holiday Stress

Don’t look now, but the holidays are almost here. The hustle and bustle is right around the corner, and the turkey will be carved before you know it. For many, this time of year can be daunting; filled with to-do lists, and gatherings to attend, and family to welcome or to visit in towns across the country. Although these festive times are filled with good intentions and promises of warm fuzzy feelings, they can come with their own set of challenges.

For some, the mere thought of fighting the crowds at the registers, or preparing a feast fit for a king while entertaining family and friends can be overwhelming. Luckily, there happens to be a few people here at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Centerstone who know a thing or two about stress and how to handle it.

For instance, there’s Don McCasland, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and retired Army Sergeant First Class. He says, to be ready for the holidays means to have a game plan. “Pre-game typically stressful situations like family gatherings,” McCasland notes. “Have a place or two planned out where you can get some quiet time, even just for two minutes, to ‘re-set’ yourself.”

He also suggests preparing for tough situations. If you know Aunt Bee is going to question how long you cooked the turkey, or Uncle Joe is going to bring up that topic you were hoping to avoid, work through how you may deal with the problem more productively than you have before. Think, “What can I do differently that’s going to make it easier on me in the moment?” McCasland says. “Coming up with solutions before you’re in the ‘heat of the moment’ is better than trying to do it when you’re not feeling your best.”

McCasland’s colleague, Licensed Clinical Social Worker Julie Adams, agrees with McCasland, and adds that having an escape plan is helpful too, especially if you find yourself over-committing. “Holidays can quickly turn from being fun in to being stressful when you take on too much.  Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to an invite if it would cause your schedule to bust at the seams.”

But, what if you can’t avoid the festivities; because you’re the one hosting? Maybe you feel like everything needs to be perfect from the cranberry sauce right down to the candles and tablecloth.  Clinic Director, Lisa Eggebeen, says to stay flexible. “You can’t please everyone all the time,” she noted.  “Try to host gatherings in a different way.  Delegate a few tasks and don’t make the mistake of trying to do too much. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed.”

That may just be the bottom line. The holidays, no matter how stressful, or busy, or headache inducing, are still filled with those warm fuzzy moments too. Remembering that can go a long way to keeping the season jolly.

“Remember the meaning behind the moments of the holiday season,” Eggebeen added. “Try refocusing your outlook and reaffirming your values and reasons for celebrating these occasions. Often you can create meaningful moments by loosening expectations and being open to the possibilities.”

Maybe even magical possibilities, ‘tis the season after all.

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