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Don’t let holiday stress get you down

The holidays don’t need to take a toll on your health. Keep a check on over-commitment and over-spending. Balance work, home and play. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Destinee Dougherty) The holidays don’t need to take a toll on your health. Keep a check on over-commitment and over-spending. Balance work, home and play. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Destinee Dougherty)

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The holiday season, once viewed as extending from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, is now considered by some to include Halloween because of the preparation, anticipation and excitement that come with the Oct. 31 celebration.

In addition, many stores now stock their shelves with Christmas merchandise before Halloween.

Despite the fun and enjoyment the holidays can bring for many, for others, it can be a time of stress, anxiety and depression, according to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center chaplains and other behavioral health experts. They explain the holidays can present a number of challenges, including family demands, spending, shopping, parties, cooking, entertaining, cleaning and more.

“First, society places a lot of pressure around the holidays,” stated Army Chaplain (Capt.) Heather Borshof, a student in the Clinical Pastoral Education program at WRNMMC. “It is embedded in us culturally that there is the expectation that everything needs to be perfect during the holidays. For most that is not the situation.

“Second, holidays can be expensive and not everyone has the means to buy what our culture says we cannot live without. People either place themselves in debt, or feel badly about not being able to afford those items that society says we must have,” the chaplain continued.

“Third, holidays can be a lot of work. Other life responsibilities do not stop and the added pressure of getting everything done for the holidays can bring about more stress than joy,” said Borshof.

“Finally, the expectations are that the holidays are a time to be with family and friends. Those who are without often feel sad and depressed because it reminds them that they are alone,” she said.

Borshof recommends keeping things in perspective to decrease stress and depression during the holidays. “Nothing is perfect and that is alright. Things will go wrong, and the key is to remember that something is not ruined just because it is not perfect.”

She explained your child may not get the most desirable Halloween costume, which may be out of stock or just too expensive, but that doesn’t have to take the fun out of the celebration because a home-made costume could be just as nice and unique.

“If one can go into a situation knowing that things are not perfect, and tries to keep calm, it may decrease the stress,” Borshof said. “If the turkey comes out dry, that is not the end of the world. In fact, it may be something to laugh about later on.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has similar advice. “The holidays don’t need to take a toll on your health. Keep a check on over-commitment and over-spending. Balance work, home and play. Get support from family and friends. Keep a relaxed and positive outlook.”

“We tend to make the holidays high maintenance. They do not have to be that way,” Borshof continued. “If one person is usually the one who prepares everything, it may help to ask others for help. And if that is not possible, scale things down a bit. The spirit of the holidays will still be there.

Another consideration often forgotten is many of the holidays are religious in nature, the chaplain added. “Focusing on a higher power or higher cause may help to restore perspective. Whether it is going to a service, or engaging in community service, it can move the focus in a more positive direction,” she said.

Regarding the little ones, Borshof said, “Children learn from what they witness firsthand. If kids see their parents stressed out and depressed, they are going to feel that as well. However, if parents and adults keep things in perspective, children will learn from that as well.”

She cautions overindulging and drinking too much as means for handling stress and depression. “Alcohol is a depressant and often becomes the cause of fights and other stresses. Stay sober and in control.”

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