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Someone recently pointed out that we are only 10 weeks away from Christmas. Eeek! Just thinking about the holidays can give me hives. The financial strain of shopping for gifts, the added chores, the baking and shopping, the stress of cleaning and decorating — it is all too much to think about this early in the season.

The holiday season is supposed to be a time to celebrate, a time for family and friends to come together, but every year a number of us find unwelcome guests knocking at our door. Stress and depression are never invited, yet they find us.

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Because I wanted to be prepared for what's on the way, I got online and found some great tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to head off holiday stress and depression.

On their website at www.mayoclinic.org, staff advise those who are feeling stressed to first acknowledge those feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy. That never works. So, admit that the holidays are dragging you down and then face each stressor head on.

I made a list of the things that are the most difficult to handle during the holiday season. Then, I tried to think of ways to make it easier. Number one on my stress list is shopping. Usually, I don't start shopping until Black Friday, but to get ahead of the game I turned to Amazon and ordered my first gift this week. I plan to order one gift per pay week from now until Thanksgiving. That will knock a few things off the list and make it more manageable when I start to hit the brick and mortar stores. And it spreads out the amount of money spent at one time.

The Mayo Clinic article says to be realistic. In the past I have chronically overspent on my grandchildren. This year I am going to try to be more realistic and spend less. I know that sticking to a budget will make a difference. You can't buy love with the perfect gift anyway, so why not purchase gifts that fit the budget?

I am one of those people who always looks for an opportunity to turn something bad into good. My husband sees the glass as half empty. I always see it as half full. So, if we have to purchase a gift and spend the money anyway, an unexpected choice like donating to a charity in the name of the gift recipient could make a surprisingly satisfying gift for the giver and the recipient.

The Mayo Clinic article spoke of the angst that can come from holiday parties, especially if you are forced to spend time with a family member or co-worker who you would not ordinarily spend time with. As hard as it may seem, you can set aside differences during the holidays. It is a gift to others if you plan a better time for discussion with those whom differences need to be resolved.

Plan ahead, marking specific days on the calendar for shopping, baking, wrapping gifts and decorating. Following a plan is a gratifying way to conquer overwhelming demands. And when that list of demands becomes too long, understand that it's OK to say no. In fact, it can be liberating.

For me, the holidays are just another opportunity to gain weight. It is sad but true. My daughter has the kind of metabolism that she can cook and bake all day, consume the fudge and cookies and big meals she makes and never gain a pound. I, on the other hand, can stand in the kitchen and inhale her cooking fumes and gain weight from that alone! Because my metabolism always betrays me, I plan to stick to healthy eating habits. I am already trying to lose weight and do not want to pay later with more stress and guilt.

I work part time at the Marriage and Relationship Education Center, a Westminster-based nonprofit with a mission of serving the community with relationship education so marriages and families thrive. I love my job and the people I work with and through their programs and events I've learned so much about the importance of healthy relationships, and the part that stress plays in derailing us.

The holidays must be especially difficult for young couples and even more so when they have children. That's why MREC is holding a cool holiday Stress Buster Date Night on Friday, Nov. 6, at the Carroll Nonprofit Building in Westminster. With entertaining activities, warm refreshments and free childcare, this date night will also offer an opportunity for couples to make a game plan to handle holiday stress. All the details are on their website at www.mrecenter.org.

If you have started early, made a plan, stuck to the budget, said "no" to pressing demands, and you still feel stressed, take a breather. You deserve time for yourself. A walk, a nap or taking the time to read a book, soak in a tub or watch a heartwarming holiday movie can do wonders.

Talk to your friends about how you feel. You can never overestimate the power of reaching out to others. We all go through it, but we sometimes forget that friends and family can relate. Just letting it out, getting advice and hearing that your feelings are normal can be a big help. If nothing helps, make an appointment with a professional. In this day and age, extra help is frequently required.

It's almost here! Unpack the decorations and get ready for the fun! After the orange and black pumpkins and witches come down it will be time for red and green. Get out the tinsel and bows and clear a spot for the tree! The holidays are coming! This year, let's make it a real celebration.



Lois Szymanski is a Carroll County resident and can be reached at loisszymanski@hotmail.com.

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