Tips for managing holiday blues

December 05, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

In the season to be jolly, more people experience stress than levity.

"The holidays from Thanksgiving to New Year's can be the 35 most stress-laden days in the calendar," said Kay Shattuck, coordinator of the Displaced Homemakers' Program at Carroll Community College during a stress-management workshop Thursday.

"If you expect an awful, stressful time, it will happen," she said.

Only a few participants took advantage of the two-hour session, but Ms. Shattuck was not disappointed.

"People may be too stressed-out at this time of year to come to a workshop," she said. "Or maybe they know how to deal with stress."

The pressures of shopping, gift-giving, relentless crowds and the forthcoming bills -- combined with endless preparations to make everyone's Christmas merry -- strain emotional and physical health.

Just when the last present is wrapped, family tensions and rigid traditions kick in.

"We tend to have really high expectations and picture our families in Norman Rockwell paintings," she said. "Sometimes our traditions get mixed up with the movies."

In our "tinsel vision," we expect Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart to show up for a wonderful turkey dinner. Instead of magic, we encounter an angry relative or a disappointed child. "Organize your behavior and plan your response to others," she said.

Ms. Shattuck offered several other ideas to avoid the holiday blues and the ensuing stress. She advised everyone to plan ahead, budget purchases and take care of themselves. One workshop participant answered, "I did. I signed up for this course."

Overspending can make the holiday blues linger through spring, Ms. Shattuck said, so set limits.

"Ask yourself how long you want to be locked into financial commitment and what you are trying to buy with your gifts," she said.

Often, we can find alternatives to tell someone we care about them.

"We are bombarded with buy, buy, buy," she said. "There are a multitude of other ways to show love."

One participant suggested a book of coupons redeemable for little favors or homemade foods and handmade items.

Another said she kept her credit cards in the freezer so she couldn't use them without planning.

"Planning gives you a sense of control and with control, your stress level goes down," said Ms. Shattuck.

Give yourself permission to be unhappy, she said. The holidays can be especially difficult for the unemployed or those who have lost loved ones. The surrounding joviality will not lift anyone out of a depression, she said.

"Sometimes our moods are related to the calendar; we hinge to certain dates," she said. "We experience a rush of every emotion, a flood of memories."

Don't inflate the pleasant memories of holidays past to the point that they mar holidays present.

"If you have a tradition that works, continue it," Ms. Shattuck said. "If not, start a new tradition."

Focus on whatever religious or spiritual aspect of the season makes you comfortable.

"The holidays are important, but they don't define you," she said. "Your esteem and identity are not tied to the season. There are many more days to the year."

Finally, plan "some future something special for yourself" now. .. Ms. Shattuck suggested Jan. 10 as a personal rest and relaxation day.

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