Published in the Ashburn Patch, December 22, 2010

By: Taghrid Barron

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Professional Advice on How to Cope with Stress During the Holidays

Organizing the office holiday party, going to four stores to track down the last item on your son’s list to Santa, trying to figure out how you can afford to get your kids the latest $300 gadget, baking several dozen cookies for your daughter’s school, and sending out 50 holiday cards in your spare time. Sound stressful?

Well, that’s what a lot of us have to cope with this time of year, and it can leave you feeling far from jolly. According to a 2006 study conducted by the American Psychological Association, 61% of respondents said they felt stress during the holidays.

Dr. Michael Oberschneider, director of Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services and a clinical psychologist said people have a difficult time during the holidays for several reasons. Conflicts between work and family responsibilities; financial stress; disruptions in eating, sleeping and exercise routines; and increased use of alcohol, all contribute to negative feelings.

“If you don’t take good care of yourself, all these factors play out as to how well someone gets through the holidays,” Dr. Oberschneider said.

So how can you put the joy back into your holidays? Here are some of Dr. Oberschneider’s tips:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Continue to eat healthy and exercise.
  • Be realistic. Take on only what you can manage. Learn to say “No.” Tackle one activity after work, instead of several.
  • Minimize your financial stress by discussing your budget with your kids. Together, decide whether you will buy one expensive present or several smaller gifts.
  • At the first sign of stress, identify what’s making you anxious and come up with a game plan on how to confront it. Don’t let it build and become overwhelming.
  • Give to yourself. “Do something that puts you in a mindset that fosters calm,” Dr. Oberschneider said. Take a hot bath, drink a cup of hot tea, go out for a walk, listen to some music or leave the office on time.

Even kids, especially children with special needs, can feel anxious during the holidays. Children are twice as likely to suffer from stress during the holidays, probably because their parents are more stressed, Dr. Oberschneider explained. If you have a child with autism, ADD or other special needs, the holidays can be particularly difficult because these children need a lot of structure.

Here’s how to help kids, especially those with special needs, manage their anxiety when routines are disrupted during the holidays:

  • Be prepared. Have a schedule of activities and general expectations. Let the kids know what they are expected to do and how they are expected to behave.
  • Structure the day as much as possible. Continue normal routines and let them know what special activities are planned for the day.
  • Balance fun/playtime with downtime.
  • Model good behavior. Manage your stress calmly and model responsible and respectful problemsolving.
  • Model self care. Let your kids see you eating well, sleeping well and exercising.

Here’s hoping your holiday is a stress-free and joyful one!