December 10, 2008 — When it comes to the holidays, are you a Hoo or a Grinch?
Many factors can put a damper on the joys of the season, but a realistic approach can help you reduce stress and celebrate in healthier ways, both mentally and physically.
The University of Virginia Women's Center's counseling services program has gathered tips and advice from sources on Grounds, including Student Health's Center for Counseling and Psychological Services and the Mary D. Ainsworth Psychological Clinic, a facility sponsored by the Department of Psychology's Clinical Training Program. In addition, the U.Va. Faculty and Employee Assistance Program regularly publishes newsletters online on different topics; FEAP consultant Brenda Wilson drew tips from Dr. Nancy Snyderman at Dr. Koop.com for "Stress Reduced Holidays for You and Yours."
• If you have family conflicts, do not expect them to go away because it is the holiday season. Sometimes conflicts can escalate at this time of year.
• In addition, if you are feeling holiday stress, it's easier to eat and drink too much as a way to try to relieve stress. But it doesn't work; any stress relief is temporary at best and can have adverse effects.
• Whatever you believe and practice, be sure to reinforce the messages to children that family traditions and/or religious beliefs are an important part of the holidays, not only toys and other gifts.
• Restore old family photos and give those to family members. This can help remind each other of what all of you have in common.
• Suggest to family members that this year you place a limit on gift costs or challenge everyone to make gifts.
• If possible, limit the time you will spend with someone you don't get along with and let the person know ahead of time you'll visit for a specified amount of time.
• Identify what makes family get-togethers stressful — is it spending the time together or all the preparation that goes into it? Consider having a potluck arrangement and share the cooking. You might even pick a different time of year for a family reunion.
• Don't forget good habits through the holidays. You'll feel better about yourself in the long run if you keep up your exercise routine. It's a great stress-buster anytime. Take a walk before or after a big meal by yourself or with family members. Plan an activity like bowling or dancing.
• If you go to parties, eat something healthy beforehand, which will help limit how much party food and alcohol you consume. Focus on eating more protein and fewer carbohydrates and sweets. You can also host your own party where you can control the types of food and quantity of alcohol in the home.
• Some families pool their money and take a trip together at this time of year, leaving the cooking and cleaning to someone else.
• For some people, the holidays can be a lonely time of year. Do something different to occupy the time. Work on a project you've thought about undertaking. Visit a new place in or out of town. Make phone calls or correspond with family or friends far away.
• Whether you'll be part of a large group or alone much of the time, volunteer for a needy cause or choose to donate to a charity instead of buying expensive gifts.
• Holidays can also be a sad time because of remembering family and friends who are not there to celebrate. Especially with our country at war, there will be people missing from the holiday celebrations. By acknowledging this rather than denying it, you can think of ways to deal with your grief.
Remember: true contentment and satisfaction will not be found on the dining room table or in a neatly wrapped present.