December / 2000
Your Health

How to reduce holiday stress
by: Betsy Hall

Feeling stressed just thinking about this holiday season?

Teresa G. Gevedon, M.D., has a prescription to help prevent holiday stress: a dose of realistic expectations.

"We tend to think we can make the holidays perfect-from every sprinkle on every cookie we make to every gift we buy," says Gevedon, assistant professor of psychiatry, University of Kentucky College of Medicine. "We have a 'Courier & Ives' picture of what the holidays should be like. It's wonderful. It's very warm. Everyone is getting along, and it's what happy memories are made of."

But the reality, Gevedon says, is that preparing for the holiday season becomes an added responsibility over our regular commitments, such as working and taking care of our families.

"Suddenly there are presents to buy, parties to attend, company to prepare for, meals to cook, and children to keep occupied," she says. "As a result, our time gets crunched, our image of the holidays being a wonderful time goes out the window, and we end up feeling stressed."

But, Gevedon explains, there are ways to prevent stress from ruining your holidays:
  • Keep your expectations manageable. Don't try to do everything.
  • Give yourself a break by getting enough sleep and rest, and eating right. You can only do so much in one day. "The pressure to 'do' often does not come from others, but ourselves," Gevedon says. "We pressure ourselves to attend all the parties and do all of the old traditions."
  • Spend time with people you care about. Don't spend your holiday on the run trying to spend time with all of your extended family. "There are only 24 hours in the day, and people need to share," Gevedon says. "It's important ahead of time to make a decision about who you're going to spend the holidays with. You need to decide how much is too much for your nuclear family. Maybe it's time to start your own traditions."
  • Set a budget and stick to it. It is expensive to buy gifts and the extra food that usually accompany the holidays.
  • Drink and smoke in moderation.
If you're already experiencing symptoms of stress-headaches, irritability, depression, and feelings of being overwhelmed-Gevedon says the best medicine is to retreat and regroup.

"Stop and take a break," she says. "The holidays are a time to have fun. Remember, having realistic expectations is one of the best gifts you can give yourself this holiday season."

Betsy Hall is publications manager with the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center, Office of Public Relations.