The lights, the tree, the gifts, the cooking, the baking, the visiting or visitors – sometimes the holidays don't seem very merry at all. With the increased activity comes increased stress that can wreak havoc if you let it. This year, we're preparing in advance to fend off the holiday blues.
We turned to an expert: Dr. Dennis Sandrock, a Clark psychologist, has seen how quickly the holidays can frazzle even the most even-keel folks. First and foremost, says Sandrock, is to set realistic expectations. Here, he shared with us his best tips for reducing holiday stress:
- Create your own personal traditions. These traditions should be things you enjoy and find personally satisfying. "Don't be taken up with what you think you're supposed to be doing," Sandrock notes. "Traditions are arbitrary. Select something that makes you happy. The practice of re-enacting it will make you really happy."
- Don't be heavily influenced by the commercial message. The meaning of the holidays should come from you, not the media.
- Be moderate with food and alcohol consumption over the holidays. Overindulgence can lead to new problems during or after the holidays.
- Don't overspend on gifts. People are struggling in today's economy. Be creative and realistic, says Sandrock. It is the thought that counts. Participate in the spirit of giving but don't get strapped. You need to pay attention to the financial commitments you are making now to avoid problems after the holidays.
- Be realistic and neutral when relationships aren't going well. Warns Sandrock: Don't have an expectation that the magic of Christmas will fix family or relationship problems.
If someone you love cannot be with you physically during the holidays, Sandrock adds these tips on coping with his or her absence:
- Be realistic. Recognize the person(s) as part of your life. Emotionally you want them to be there though physically it is impossible.
- Email them, send text messages, letters, Skype with them, do whatever works for you to maintain some contact with them.
- Make a symbolic gesture for them at your gathering. It can be anything from cooking their favorite dish to making a group wish for them.
The loss of a loved one recently or near the holidays in the past can make the season extremely stressful. Sandrock suggests:
- Grieve. You need to grieve to accept the loss. Don't be afraid to be sad. It's okay to cry. Don't fight the feeling or try to numb yourself with more drinks or other escapes. Not grieving can lead to more serious problems later on.
- Remember the deceased for who they were. Focus on them, not on how much you miss them. Look at pictures of them, cook their favorite dishes, and talk about them. Focus on the positive memory of your departed loved one.
To Sandrock's de-stress list, we're adding a tip of our own:
- When things get too overwhelming or when you've shopped and cooked into exhaustion, treat yourself. How about a massage? Jamie Lester, the lead therapist at in Garwood, says massage is one of the best ways to help you relax when you are stressed. "It can help you physically, emotionally and mentally," she says. "It's a cleansing of the fluids in the body."
"Be realistic in your expectations for the holidays," Sandrock concludes. "Create new traditions and continue old traditions. Adapt as necessary."
Dr. Dennis Sandrock is a clinical psychologist who specializes in adults, adolescents and couples therapy at his private practice at 472 Westfield Ave. He participates in most insurance plans and is accepting new patients. You can reach him at 732-381-5600.