How To Turn Down Holiday Tension

By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen
Tribune News Service.

Does your family tension rise during the holiday season? You know how this goes. Everything from pressure-filled holiday events to overspending can cause quarreling.

And let’s not overlook Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which makes many individuals feel very depressed because of lack of exposure to sunlight.

A friend of ours, who is severely affected by mood swings, told us he feels more depressed in the winter months. “I tend to pick fights with my wife and kids,” he confessed to us. “And I can’t seem to help it.”

Cooling tension with co-workers and family members starts with awareness. Just knowing that stress escalates for many during the holidays helps you stay proactive to avoid acting badly.

It pays to have a lot of patience with yourself, and use humor to deflect tension when someone makes an ugly scene in traffic, for example. Tell yourself, “I’ll give three people a pass to act stupid every single day, before I fantasize I’m snatching them bald.”

Also, indulge in everything that’s stress relieving (sleeping in late when you can, watching old movies) to build up a tolerance for idiotic behavior from others.

“I go crazy during December and early January because I feel my financial pressures mounting and my housework going downhill,” says a woman we’ll call Priscilla. “I am very obsessive-compulsive, and it irks me that I can’t control things.”

Another friend of ours, whom we’ll call Randy, says he felt okay about the holidays until the other day. “My car is falling apart, and my neighbor came over bragging that he’d bought a new SUV!”

These tips can help when your anxiety starts to grow:

Stop comparing yourself to others. Sure, some people have their homes perfectly organized and all shopping done in October. But you were busy with other things. Make up your mind to feel comfortable moving along in your own way, regardless of how imperfect it is.

Do some small favors for other people. Take your mind off yourself by wrapping up a small gift for a co-worker or an elderly neighbor. It’s tougher to feel sorry for yourself if you’re spreading a little cheer to others.

Tackle major items on your to-do list first. If you purchase plane tickets for a trip, buy groceries for your New Year’s Eve party, or get your car serviced, this will make it easier to get a few minor things done. Don’t save big items like cleaning your house for guests the day before they show up. Jump in early to get it done.

Crank up music. Music will revive you and improve your mood, regardless of what you have to accomplish. Energize yourself with your favorite songs when you drive, shop, clean or wrap gifts.

“Pacing yourself is the key to not having a breakdown!” says a friend of ours who has a job and four young children. We’ll call her Susan.

“We see these magazine covers telling us how movie stars have it all,” says Susan. “Someone might have a blockbuster movie coming out on Christmas Day, a new baby born this week, a holiday-perfect home and a post-pregnancy killer body. We need to stop buying into that fantasy stuff. In reality, they’re likely struggling like the rest of us. We’re all human, and we all have needs outside of pushing ourselves to a heart attack. I vote that we all slow down and enjoy ourselves a little more.”
(Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe at . Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)

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