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Relieve the tension: Experts offer tips to battle holiday stress

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Shopping, decorating, cooking, wrapping gifts, visiting with family and friends, traveling -- while many find joy in the activities of the holiday season, others find themselves overwhelmed by the obligations.

Experts say the most important part of handling holiday stress is preparing for it. Understanding that the season will bring additional tasks and interrupt the normal daily flow helps curb stress levels.

"The first thing I tell people is that you have to be aware that the holidays are always stress inducing," said Jim Sendelbach, a Conyers-based therapist.

"We have to be aware that our schedule and routines change frequently and radically."

People should approach the holidays with realistic expectations, said Dr. Gretchen Collins, medical director for the Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton Community Service Board, a public health agency which provides mental health, developmental disabilities and addictive diseases services.

Ignore the bombardment of perfect-looking, happy families at the holidays presented by media and advertisers, she said. Most families are average people, with both strengths and foibles.

"I let clients know that during the holiday season there are generally going to be increased stressors, and that is due to, No. 1, to increased expectations," she said. "It can set us up for stress and disappointment."

Another source of holiday stress is increased stimulation such as parties and family get-togethers. People struggle to have good relationships with those whom they haven't interacted well with in the past, Collins said.

She recommended that those who feel stressed at the holidays follow their normal schedules, attending work regularly. When special events do occur, limit participation.

"What I tell them to do is try and keep life as routine as possible," said Collins.

Collins also cautioned against excessive eating and drinking. Limit alcohol, get proper nutrition and get plenty of rest, she said.

Also, keep expectations reasonable.

"If you didn't get along with grandma last year, you probably won't get along with grandma this year," Collins said.

Both Collins and Sendelbach said exercise reduces stress levels.

Take a 10-minute walk. Or stretch your hands over your head and take deep breaths. The goal is to increase circulation, which sends more oxygen to the brain, decreasing stress and allowing for clearer thinking.

Sendelbach said you can even take refuge in that most private of places -- the restroom.

"Take a bathroom break, whether you need it or not," he said.

To seek professional mental health services or for a referral, call the Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton Community Service Board in Rockdale at 770-918-6677 or in Newton at 770-787-3977.