Series of courses will target holiday anxiety attacks Occasions meant for joy can cause great stress


It's too early for Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas presents, but it's never too soon for holiday stress.

At least that's what the folks at Anne Arundel Medical Center said as they announced a series of stress management courses designed to help people cope with increasing anxiety as the holidays approach.

"At this time of year, things start to fall apart," said Leigh Houck, a health resource counselor at the Annapolis medical complex who is teaching a course entitled "Managing Celebration Stress."

You start out with good intentions but a lot of buried anger can come out," she said. "A day that's supposed to be so joyous can be really tough."

The courses, which start in November, cost up to $15 for a two-hour session.

Did you buy too many presents? "Achieving Financial Harmony" may be the course for you. Too nervous around your in-laws? "Introduction to Stress Management" could make the difference. Tired of just generally feeling like a loser? How about the "Improving Self Esteem" class?

And if none of those works, yoga, tai-chi and massage courses also are available.

This is not so much a service for holiday-time depression -- a well-documented phenomenon -- as it is for the free-floating anxiety that stems from celebrating.

The weeks before the holidays are busy ones at the Anne Arundel Conflict Resolution Center. There, mediators say they hear about a lot of little problems that explode into major &L; conflicts because people are so stressed.

Some people take on too many celebratory tasks. Others try to visit too many relatives; still others fight over religion, child custody or child-rearing.

"We try to help people to look at conflict in a positive way," said Max Ochs, the center's co-executive director, who will teach a class in conflict resolution. "It can be an opportunity to grow and learn. It can actually be a challenge that will improve the relationship you have with someone."

While Mr. Ochs' class is only two hours, the center has 52 mediators on staff to help families and couples talk through disputes.

"Here we help people get some clarity about the issue they're fighting over and then help them brainstorm some options for a solution," said mediator Margie Bryce. "It's a very active process, but at the same time we don't give advice.

"We help people find what's best for them."

The classes include lessons on everything from assertiveness training to managing credit card spending. The programs, which begin next week, are hands-on lessons aimed at finding practical solutions to stress.

"This is not just touchy-feely," Mr. Ochs said. "This is very practical, hard-edged knowledge."

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