From shopping to cooking to various family gatherings, the holiday season offers a fair amount of stressful scenarios. According to mental health professionals, maintaining a positive attitude and remembering what's important can make the difference between screaming in a stress-filled rage and having some good family fun this year.
DEALING WITH OTHERS
When attending a family gathering of your own or of a significant other, preparation and state of mind are the most important keys, according to Bonnie Bionbolillo, a licensed mental health counselor.
Mental health experts advise people to keep conversations within their comfort zones at holiday family gatherings. This is one of many ways to avoid stress during the holiday season.
P-J?photos by Scott Shelters
''What you want to do in the beginning is feel good about the situation you're going into if possible. Find out who you can really talk to about any kind of a situation you might be going into before you go into it to kind of problem solve some issues ahead of time,'' she said. ''Sometimes it's helpful to just be by yourself and talk to yourself a little bit with some positive self talk. 'It's going to work out fine. I'm going to say what I need to say. I'm going to be able to get through this situation.'''
''Just be pleasant,'' said Susan Woollett, LCSW-R, of Compassionate Christian Counseling. ''Whatever holiday it is, it seems like it comes and goes so quickly. Our time spent with these people is usually relatively short. You can just talk about something that somebody made that was good or something that somebody is wearing. We don't pick our families, but if we think hard, we can find something positive in each person.''
When welcoming a significant other to a family gathering, people should keep in mind the high probability of stress for that person, Woollett said. ''I think it's easier, if you're just meeting a family for the first time, to do that in small doses, rather than bringing somebody in and introducing them to 50 people that they may not see again for quite some time. It's easier with a smaller group size on an informal basis.''
Keeping conversations within your comfort zone may also prevent uncomfortable situations. ''There are certain things that maybe you don't need to talk about. It's not like you have to tell everything about yourself to a fiance's family or to someone else,'' Bionbolillo said. ''I think you need to think about what is going to make you feel most comfortable in this discussion.''
Creating a lighthearted atmosphere may be the answer, according to Marshall Greenstein, a licensed marital and family therapist and mental health counselor, of Hutton And Greenstein Counseling Services.
''I've found from my own family and from the families of friends that when we have a meal together, when we're not caught up in all the material needs and demands that life brings, we lighten up,'' he said. ''We can tell jokes. We can laugh at ourselves and laugh at each other's antics.''
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Living within one's means can keep holiday stress levels down, according to Greenstein. ''Generally, I've experienced during my 63 years on the planet that during the holiday season, folks get overwrought emotionally and get stressed out,'' he said. ''They think about life in a material way. 'What foods do I have to get?' 'Where do I have to be?' I can't live to somebody else's standards and get caught up in that.''
Making an inexpensive holiday meal will lower that stress, Greenstein said. ''It could be a simple, but elegant meal, rather than having something beyond our means, which is just going to stress us out.''
Woollett believes the stress-reducing simplicity goes for gifts as well. ''Make something that's simple. Sometimes, you can just make a card or give something simple, rather than something extravagant. I think people like to know that somebody has thought of them. It's not really the gift that's so important as that they were thought of,'' she said. ''Sometimes just a phone call or running an errand for somebody, especially for older folks, can really be appreciated. Just sit down and visit or fix a nice meal for somebody. Most of us have more than we need. It can help to tell families, 'Why don't we exchange names rather than having everyone giving for everyone?'''
''There are alternatives to gift giving other than just going to stores and spending a ton of money. Sometimes, people don't think about that,'' Bionbolillo said. ''The financial piece can be pretty challenging right now with the economy the way it is and with people not having the jobs that maybe they've had in the past. Sometimes they just need to say, 'I'm not going to be giving gifts this season,' or, 'I'll be making something' or, 'I'll be doing something a little different this year.' Some people are into crafting and things like that, which can make for wonderful gifts. It isn't like you have to spend a ton of money.''
Greenstein advises people to remember what they're thankful for, which can keep them in a better state of mind. ''I think one of the ways to overcome that anxiety is to begin to appreciate not only the goodness in others, but also the goodness in what you do well yourself. Look at the goodness of the spiritual part of who you are,'' he said. ''I think it's important to be able to pray and be thankful for the blessings that we do have, and that could be as simple as each other. To enjoy what we have and embrace that goodness relieves ourselves of that pressure. This is the time where we need to set aside all of the gadgets - all of those high-tech reasons for being apart from each other - and to come together in a human and loving fashion. Appreciate each other for the goodness of who we are and for each other.''
STAYING ORGANIZED, HEALTHY
Writing tasks down can help as well, according to Bionbolillo. ''Sometimes what's really important is to look at what you need to accomplish in the period of time that you have. They might be trying to figure out what they need to buy, how much money they can spend, the food preparation and all of that,'' she said. ''Take a calendar to plan out all of the things you need to get accomplished. That way, you're not going to leave things until the last minute. How many of them are shopping on the 24th of December? A lot of them. If you can just think about being a little more prepared and realistic, you might be better off.''
When all of the tasks seem overwhelming, Bionbolillo believes sharing the workload will help people make it through the holidays. ''Let others help you. Don't feel like you have to be the one to do everything,'' she said. ''I think there's joy in sharing and helping one another.''
Taking a break and doing the things they love can help people keep a positive mindset during the holidays and throughout the year, Bionbolillo said.
''Just take some time away by yourself and read a book. Do some of those things that you like to do. Everybody has different likes,'' she said. ''The more we can take care of ourselves, the better we're going to be when it comes to interacting with others and dealing with holiday stresses. You can do some physical exercise, which will really release the endorphins and make you feel good. I believe that there's comfort in an everyday routine.''
In some situations, however, Bionbolillo said that it's better to try something new.
''One of the things I always think about is, when people lose a loved one and it's the first holiday after that loss, I always recommend to them to not try to recreate what used to be. We can't if that person is missing,'' she said. ''Try to do something different. You might want to do something in honor of that person, but we can't recreate what used to be. Just being around others is helpful to get through these times of grief and loss.''
If all of one's holiday stresses and anxieties pile up too high, seeking professional help may be the best solution, according to Bionbolillo. ''If someone finds themselves really struggling or feeling overwhelmed - because some people really struggle during the holiday season - it's very important to kind of take a step back and look at it for what it is,'' she said. ''If the feelings like this continue for more than a week or two, it's probably a really good idea to speak with your medical doctor about how you're feeling. There could be something else going on there. In therapy, you have new clients calling because it is just so difficult for them to get through the holiday season.''