<b>YOUR HEALTH | </b>By Jackson Holtz Herald writer
It can be bigger than a roasted turkey and carry more weight than a fully decorated Christmas tree.
Holiday stress is a real problem that can lead to depression or worse, experts say.
“Life doesn’t always coincide well with Thanksgiving or Christmas,” said Dr. Paul Schoenfeld, a psychologist who is the director of Behavioral Health at the Everett Clinic. He also writes about mental health issues on the Everett Clinic’s Family Talk Blog.
Money troubles, work problems and poor health can weigh down an already frenetic and challenging time of year, Schoenfeld said.
“People feel a lot of pressure to make holidays positive and exciting events,” said.
That expectation can be unrealistic.
“This doesn’t have to be the best Christmas ever,” the psychologist said.
Remember what’s really important, he suggests. Take control of the celebration and design the day to fit the needs of all the participants.
People should ask themselves, “What do I want to really celebrate?”
Then, take care of yourself, Schoenfeld said. Don’t shop until you drop. Go for walks, take a bath or find some oasis of calm.
Not everything will be jolly.
“Very often during holidays people remember and re-experience past losses,” Schoenfeld said. “You can feel sad. It’s something that people frequently have at family gatherings.”
Losses can include loved ones who died, divorces or possibly a job that failed.
“It’s important to accept those feelings and not sweep those away,” the doctor said.
As much as possible, it’s also important to try not to take offense at off-handed comments or gifts given in poor taste, he said. That’s especially true about relatives who may not top your list of favorite people.
If bad feelings begin to get in the way of everyday life, it may be time to check in with a doctor.
“If you find yourself becoming really depressed, and sad moods and hopelessness are making it difficult to function, talk to your family doctor or get a referral,” Schoenfeld said.
Sharing gifts isn’t the only way to express your feelings this holiday, he said.
“Make time to tell people in your life how much you love and appreciate them,” Schoenfeld said. “That can be the best gift and the most meaningful one.”
Tips for relieving holiday stress
Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief.
Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events.
Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year.
Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations.
Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend.
Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities.
Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed.
Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all.
Take a breather. Make some time for yourself.
Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores.
– The Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com