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Holiday Stress-Reduction Tips - Listen to the Real Experts

With Thanksgiving behind us, now we are in the sprint towards Hanukkah, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, New Year's, etc. Take a deeeep breath.

I spent Thanksgiving at a neighbor's where I was able to eat other people's favorite foods and watch family dynamics with an objective eye. It was very enjoyable. But I noticed the conversation inevitably turned to a panicked, "I have so much to do before _____!"

A recent article in the Baltimore Sun, Taking a holiday from the Holiday Stresses, takes a bit of a different approach to the topic. Reporter Meredith Cohn cautions us to be aware of where the stress-reduction tips are coming from and be discriminating when reading advice from so-called "experts." She quotes Thomas J. Capo, a psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland,

"I'd say the No. 1 concern is that you want to be able to discriminate good
advice from the rest of it, most of which tends to be bogus. In order to qualify
as 'good advice,' it needs to be backed by good science, rather than
'testimonials' or so-called 'common sense."

Cohn also spoke with Mark Gorkin, the StressDoc, who points out (somewhat tongue-in-cheek), "Holiday blues is that feeling of loss or sadness that you have over the holiday when, for whatever reason, you can't be with those people who have been or are special and significant. And holiday stress is...when you have to be with some of those people!"

Gorkin, a licensed clinical social worker, author of "Practice Safe Stress" and motivational speaker (The Stress Doc) - who is an expert, elaborates further on holiday stress in his classic holiday article "Four F's of Holiday Friction."

"Here are 'The Four 'F's of Holiday Friction: Fantasies, Family, Food and Finances.'

1. Fantasies. First, the idyllic image of the holidays portrayed by the media seems so out of touch with reality, it's enough to make you overload on eggnog (with or without the alcohol).Another pressure is the internalized memories we carry around. I recall my friend Linda, a single parent at the time, berating herself because she couldn't keep up with the holidays - the cooking, the shopping, the house decorations, etc. - the way her mother had. Of course, Linda's mom did not work outside the home. I also recall Linda observing that, as a successful professional, she now has the money but lacks the time for the season. Previously, when she wasn't working, she had plenty of time and no money: The "Holiday Catch-22."And, finally, this season turns most of us into sentimental jelly fish, just waiting to get entangled in the arms of that "true love." Hey, I'm not saying that Mr. or Ms. Holiday Hopeful is as possible or as real as Santa Claus. (My motto: "I no longer count on nor discount any possibility.") Just don't let childhood longings and memories and voices transform you into a frantic, salivating, love-crazed inner child.The key to managing this friction: gently embrace, don't cling, to magical memories. Discover a blend of magical realism that helps you balance love, work and play in the present.

2. Family. There are so many permutations in families these days, it's got to get a bit confusing. For separated families, a poignant question: which parent (or grandparents) will we be with for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for New Years? I vividly remember an eight year old's lament: "Why can't we just be one family again?"Another common family issue is when a holiday gathering turns into a competitive arena for sibling rivalry, along with a desire for long-standing recognition and approval. And if you find in these family therapy sessions, I mean holiday reunions, that you can't resist trying to change the attitude and behavior of the parent (sibling or child) that "makes you crazy," patterns which have resisted influence attempts for decades...maybe there's only one solution. Have you thought about getting far out of town for the holidays?

3. Food. The holidays turn most of us into bingeaholics. Running helter skelter, not stopping for lunch, overdosing on the cookies and chocolate that a colleague has brought to work. And discipline at a party is a contradiction in terms. This caloric chaos is not surprising considering the biggest role model of the holidays looks like he hasn't met a single gram of fat in two hundred years that he doesn't love. Hey, Santa Claus hasn't been doing his aerobic workouts either. But wait...Appoint a designated nagger, who will gently remind you when you are overdoing it. Don't chat hovering around the buffet table. Take reasonable portions and move away. Now replace food with some food for thought. And face it, no matter what you do, or don't do, you are likely to add some pounds on the holidays. So go to the malls and walk briskly for thirty minutes before you start the shopping splurge. You'll spend less and, probably, will eat less as well.

4. Finances. The holidays heighten our monetary consciousness -- from the end of the year financial and psychological accounting (did we meet our financial/family security and career goals?) to the never-ending list of holiday gifts. And as the great Russian novelist, Dostoevsky, noted: "Consciousness is depression!" For the first issue, seek a budget counselor, a CPA, a career counselor or even a mental health specialist. For the last, "just say no" to your child's "toy lust." Give your child choices; explain why there are limits. Try this holiday mantra: "Presence not just presents." This season, invest time, not just money. For big families, be creative. Divide up the gift list with other relatives. You shouldn't have to buy something for everyone. Making a gift definitely adds a personal touch. And, finally, don't overlook a very important person. Get a special gift for yourself.So the holidays may be a stressful time; a time of feelings of loss and sadness. But with a little higher power humor it also, can be a source of creative expression and sharing."

So when everyone from your neighbor, the TV news anchor and your mother offers tips on reducing holiday stress, be selective and seek out the experts.

Nancy L

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