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Holiday Stress Management

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My husband and I have been married 27 years and we still laugh about our first Christmas tree.  We were so excited.  We had just bought our first home, a real fixer-upper in Schenectady, NY and wanted to make that first holiday season something special.  Off we went to the local tree farm, picked out the perfect conifer and stuffed it into the trunk of our Ford tempo.  (Why we did not tie it to the top of the car is still a mystery.)  Needless to say, an entire tree does not fit in the trunk of a compact sedan, so my hubby took some rope and did his best to tie the hood down over the bulging tree.  Loaded up with Christmas merriment, we eagerly headed for the two-lane expressway to take the fast way home.  About five miles down the road, cars started to beep at us and then pull alongside us pointing to the rear of our car.  Puzzled, I stuck my head out the window and looked behind the car.  The next thing out of my mouth was, “PULL OVER! We are dragging the tree!”  Somehow, the rope had loosened and the tightly secured tree was, well, not tight or secure anymore.  Miraculously, the rope had looped itself around the tree and stayed connected to the latch of the trunk.  The resulting picture was something like a 20 foot fishing line hanging out the back of our car with a whale of tree at the end of the line.  Well, here is the deal.  If you drag a tree behind your Tempo at 60 miles per hour for several miles, it does not exactly look fresh anymore.  In fact, it does not look like a tree anymore.  In our case, one whole side of tree had sheared off.  This tree made the Charlie Brown Christmas tree look good!   At first we were heartbroken but then we started to laugh and said, “This baby is going up in our living room anyways!”  It was the best first Christmas ever.  

I relay this silly tale to point out the holidays don’t have to be perfect to be memorable.  In fact, sometimes it is the greatest mishaps that cause us to laugh and remember.  The holiday season can be stressful with parties, shopping, baking, wrapping, cleaning, and entertaining; not to mention finances and families.  Taking some time for relaxation and keeping it all in perspective is the key to not only surviving the holidays but perhaps really enjoying them as well.  The American Psychological Association and the Mayo Clinic have the following tips for coping with holiday stress:

Be Realistic.  The holidays don’t have to be perfect.  Families grow and change over time.  Being flexible with traditions and creating new traditions together makes for a happier holiday for everyone.  

Stick to your budget.  Decide on your food and gift budget ahead of time and stick to it.  If you don’t, not only will December be stressful but January will as well when the credit card bill lands in your mailbox.  

Take a bit of time to relax.  Make some time for yourself.  Fitting in a 15-20 minute catnap, taking a quiet walk by yourself, or listening to some great music may be just enough to clear your mind before you tackle the next project.

Don’t stuff your feelings but reach out.  If someone close to you has recently died, you can’t be with loved ones, or the holidays are the anniversary of something traumatic, acknowledge those feelings.  It is OK and perfectly normal to feel sadness and grief.  You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it is the holidays.  That being said, often the best antidote is reaching out.  If you feel lonely and isolated, seek out community, religious, or social events.  Consider volunteering.  Helping others is frequently a great way to lift your spirits.  NOTE:  If you feel persistently sad or anxious for an extended period of time, speak with your physician.   If you feel that you may harm yourself or others, call 911.  

Learn to say no.  Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.  Plan ahead and keep a calendar so you don’t overschedule.  

To learn more about stress management and the holidays, try these websites: American Psychological Association at or the Mayo Clinic at  On behalf of the entire Noyes Health team, I wish you all a very happy holiday season and a healthy, joyous new year.  Be Well.  

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at or 585-335-4327.  

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