BUSINESS, HEALTH, HOLIDAYS, WELLNESS
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How to Cope With Holiday Stress and Make Life More Enjoyable

By LaReeca Rucker

This article originally appeared in The Clarion-Ledger and USA TODAY circa 2011.

Cole Smith, owner of Creative Gifts in Jackson, feels his stress levels rise during the holiday season. As the owner of a wholesale gift packaging company, he sells materials like gift wrap, ribbons, tissues, boxes and bows.

“My customers are predominantly female, and most of them are just like every other shopper,” he said. “They get in a panic after Thanksgiving realizing it’s Christmas.”

It’s also a stressful time for Smith and his employees. A season dubbed the “happiest time of the year” can be anything but when work, finances, parties and perfection bring more worry than welcome at Christmas.

“My little business is blessed to have many customers, but we are not Walmart,” he said. “My co-workers work part-time, and I’m very blessed they are hanging in there. They are hard workers, and it is stressful.

“We have an attitude of one customer at a time. People can be rude and distract you, but we keep a smile on our faces. I think we deal with it pretty successfully, too.”

098de-bilde-2Smith said his wife usually takes on the gift-giving responsibilities and manages to reduce her stress levels by shopping online ahead of time.

Michael Madson, a University of Southern Mississippi psychology professor, said there are several holiday stressors.

“Pressure to host the ‘perfect holiday function,’ finances or lack thereof, and making sure every gift is bought are some,” he said. “However, there can also be stressors related to having to gather with family and other individuals with whom you do not get along, travel and managing busy holiday schedules to ensure that nobody’s feelings are hurt.”

Even positive events that often happen during the holidays like receiving presents can be stressors, Madson said.

“Given the current economic environment, finances can be a major stressor that worries individuals,” he said. “It is important to note that there are daily stressors that are added to by the stress of the holidays.”

The stress response is actually a physiological response to what we perceive as a threat, Madson said.

“Often time people refer to this physiological response as the ‘flight or fight’ response as our body is preparing for us to run or to fight,” he said. “In other words our body is mobilizing for action. However, over time, during periods of prolonged stress, like the holiday season, there is wear and tear on the body. Physiologically, it is easier for us to get sick. Chronic diseases could get worse.”

Madson said blood pressure can worsen during these stressful periods. People can be more prone to experiencing depression, anxiety or irritability, which could affect relationships with family and friends. And they sometimes engage in harmful behaviors such as excessive alcohol or drug use, poor eating or even commit suicide.

The American Psychological Association (www.apa.org) has some great tips for managing holiday stress, Madson said.

•”One of the first things a person can do is recognize it is normal to feel extra stressed,” he said. “It is important for people to maintain or develop new healthy/stress-reducing behaviors, such as exercising, eating healthy, meditation or however they relax.”

•”Make sure, during the busy holidays to make time for yourself and engage in those activities that help you recharge. For instance, ensure you are sleeping and eating appropriately.”

•”Have realistic expectations for the holidays. Things will likely not go perfectly.”

•”Maintain supportive relationships, and try to avoid the temptation to isolate.”

•”If finances are a concern, have those conversations with family and friends and inform them that this holiday will be different, or find new traditions with less financial cost.”

Madson said: “In the end, the more an individual can maintain the stress-reducing behaviors or learn new strategies to beat stress, the more likely they are to roll with the wave of the holidays versus have it crash on them.”

For Brandon resident Amy Goley, stress also factors into the holiday season.

“With four kids, my biggest stress is that they grow up with good holiday memories,” she said. “Sometimes that makes me attempt to try to create perfection. I realize that a grumpy, stressed-out mom is the last thing that will create a good memory, so I have to remind myself to focus on the relationships not the events.

“I have also implemented a ‘giving schedule.’ We are all dedicating time every weekend to do some sort of service or volunteer work. It keeps us grounded and grateful.”

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