Feature Archive

Holiday Stress Relief

Get Real, Get Involved, Stay Healthy

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

Do you get blue amid the red, green, and gold? If the holidays bring more harrumph than hooray, here are some tips to lighten your day.

"People need to have realistic expectations about the holidays," says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University and chief psychologist at the Grady Health System in Atlanta.

"There's so much hype -- people feel everything has to be great, you have to get along with your family," she tells WebMD. "Sometimes we expect holidays to cheer us up when having a tough year. That's not realistic."

Many people try to do too much, try to please too many people, says Kenneth Goodrick, PhD, associate professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He is a psychotherapist and author of the book, Energy, Peace, Purpose.

Entertaining at home can stretch your last nerve -- especially if it brings out your perfectionist tendencies, he adds. The holidays can also open up old wounds, if yours was a dysfunctional family, if you're divorced, or if you have lost a spouse.

"The holidays should be about making good memories," Goodrick tells WebMD.


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Some survival strategies:

Think about what's important. "Remember that happiness and fulfillment lie in the balance between self-care and caring for others," he says. "Take care of yourself so you won't burn out, so you will be of maximum help to others. That's where you will get maximum fulfillment."

Get involved in a religious faith based in love, and celebrate that faith.

Socialize. If you're feeling lonely, find a church or community center where you can be with other people. Sing carols. See a play.

Gather your support group. Everyone should have someone to talk with about personal problems -- whether it's a support group or a friend, says Goodrick. "Happiness and fulfillment comes from doing constructive work and having loving relationships. Be counselors for each other, commiserate. Don't judge. Just try to help others come up with solutions to problems."

Stay away from booze. Alcohol changes your mood -- and it also brings out the worst in people. You can have parties without alcohol or high-fat foods.

Exercise every day. That's especially important when you're eating more. "It's hard to be sad if you're physically fit, if you get enough sleep," says Goodrick.

Avoid TV. "Most is not designed to make you a better person, or even feel better," he adds.

Don't spend so much. "You don't have to buy electronic entertainment equipment that far exceeds the human sensory capability to detect the difference," says Goodrick. "I like going to the mall and not buying anything. I get a charge out of that."

Simplify your traditions. Instead of the big family gift exchange, why not exchange amusing and instructive family stories, tell each other how much we appreciated each other -- or not -- over the years? "Sometimes honesty is good," Goodrick says.

Do something useful for your community. Visit people at the nursing home.

If your family is having problems, don't try to patch them up now, says Kaslow. "Resist the temptation to patch up long-standing family problems. This is not the time of year to do that. It's an emotionally charged time. People put a lot of importance on holiday celebrations. It's easier to patch things up when things are less stressful."

Originally published Oct. 23, 2003.

Medically updated Oct. 18, 2004.


SOURCES: Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Emory University; chief psychologist, Grady Health System, Atlanta. Kenneth Goodrick, PhD, associate professor of family and community medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 5:19:58 AM