Don’t Be HoliDAZED by the Holidays!
By Valerie S. Nosek, Ease@Work EAP Coordinator
Stress enters our lives on almost a daily basis – deadline pressures at work, a less-than-perfect personal relationship, the honking horn behind you in a traffic jam…And most of the time, we manage the stress and move on. But the holidays seem to bring with them a heightened element of stress for many. Now, not only do we have to contend with all of our “normal” stressors, but we also have the added pressures that come from our own, and other’s expectations of us, regarding what the holidays should be like.
Just last weekend, my family and I went out to pick and cut our tree. (Yes, we celebrate the Christian holiday, but stress does not discriminate based on beliefs!) So, there were a number of families there – children romping between the trees, squealing in delight; a couple holding hands riding out on the horse-drawn wagon to choose their first tree together; multiple generations of families selecting trees for their homes. And then there was “the mean dad.” (That’s what my kids called him.)
This father was obviously on stress overload from the whole tree-picking process. He had just dragged his family’s tree back to the barn to pay and was waiting to have it tied onto his car. While standing in the haphazard line, you could see his impatience growing – shifting from foot to foot, anxiously looking at the tree farm workers to see which customer they were helping, frown on his face. Meanwhile, his wife and two children (which were about 5- and 9-years-old) were smiling and laughing…and yes, making noise.
He looked at them a couple of times, and said, “Shhh.” But they continued to play while waiting. When the children started tugging on his sleeve and asking if they were going to decorate the tree when they got home, he snapped.
“For crying out loud,” (he really used some other colorful language involving the Christmas babe’s name separated by the action version of a slang word that is forbidden in our house),”we just took two hours picking out this damn tree and we don’t even have it home yet, now you’re asking me if we’re gonna decorate it today.”
All of a sudden, everyone was looking at him like his head was spinning around like Linda Blair’s in the Exorcist. He had succeeded in quieting not only his kids, but everyone else around him. His wife, quickly and in hushed tones, herded the children into the car.
Certainly (and I’m not making excuses for his behavior), this man was probably dealing with other stressors in his life that resulted in an inappropriate reaction. The expectations of his family, perhaps combined with his perception of getting a tree as being his responsibility as a father, may have been the stress factor that put him “over the edge.”
Now, not all of us may be as stressed as that person was, but to varying degrees, most of us will feel a bit of holiday stress. Watch out for the following symptoms.
- Sleep irregularities
- Rapid heart rate/chest pain
- Increased blood pressure
- Weight loss or gain
- Muscle tension
- Reduce immunity /Resistance to illness
- Digestive problems
- Mood swings
- Trouble concentrating or problem solving
- Difficulty resolving conflicts
- Unexplained or irrational sadness or anger
- Excessive/Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Know your sensitive spots…in other words: What are the triggers that really get to you and elevate your stress levels? Some common ones during the holidays include:
- Family or certain family members
- Personal relationships
- Emotions surrounding the holiday
- Financial issues
- Overindulgence in food or alcohol
Once you are aware of the danger zones, you can take precautions to manage the stress, even if you can’t completely avoid it. Some suggestions might include:
- Manage the reality of the holiday and don’t buy into the fantasy promoted by popular media. It’s impossible to create the “perfect” holiday as portrayed on television, magazines or the Internet. Honor the traditions that you can and create new ones that fit into your lifestyle. Base your holiday on love and balance it with your responsibilities to work and family.
- Decide to set family differences aside, if only for the holiday. Try to accept family members and friends as they are.
- Keep up your healthy habits during the holidays. These will help you keep a routine, which helps with balance and stress. Set aside time for yourself to relax and exercise.
- Set a budget before you go shopping and stick to it. Plan ahead financially for party and travel expenses. And, if your stuck in a money crunch this year, don’t be afraid to cut back on spending for gifts. Don’t go into additional debt now that will add to financial stress in the new year. Instead, get creative with either homemade gifts or the gift of expertise in a particular area, for example: offer to paint a friend’s kitchen, mow an elderly relative’s lawn for the summer, or put up items to sell on craigs list or e-bay for someone who does not have a computer or is not computer saavy.
If despite your best efforts, you still find yourself feeling stressed or sinking into a holiday hole – don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seek support from those around you – friends, relatives, religious or social services. And remember, many employers will have an employee assistance program (EAP) that is there to help you with exactly this type of situation.
If you don’t know who your EAP is or how to contact them, ask someone in your human resources department for that information. You don’t have to tell your HR person why you are calling the EAP, as EAPs operate as a confidential benefit service for employees.