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Taking a holiday from the holiday stresses

The Baltimore Sun

"Holiday blues is the feeling of loss or sadness that you have over the holidays 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!"

Mark Gorkin, "The Stress Doc," a licensed clinical social worker and motivational speaker

It's no revelation that the holidays can be stressful and sometimes sad.

But what may be surprising, or a little alarming, is the number of people at the ready with advice, words of wisdom, common-sense approaches and collections of tips. Many possess nary an obvious credential for dispensing such potentially critical information. Type "surviving the holidays" into the Google search bar and about 2.2 million results pop up.

Just sorting through it all can be stressful.

So, whom should the nail biters, the Martha Stewart wannabes and the blue listen to and whom should they ignore? Can the heavy stew from the Internet, as well as Mom and daytime TV, be boiled down to something light and easily digestible? What's the best advice on all the advice?

"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," said Thomas J. Capo, a psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland. "In order to qualify as 'good advice,' it needs to be backed by good science, rather than 'testimonials' or so-called 'common sense.'"

His quick set of tips focuses on managing your health, time and money. In sum, he says plan ahead and get plenty of sleep.

Pat Brill, a "busy mom expert," has made a career of helping people manage their time. With her human resources and management background, she co-founded a Web site called boomersinmotion.com for busy mothers and SilkBow.com for busy shoppers and has written a book called Holiday Survival Guide.

She says people should not get caught up in doing what they think is expected or what everyone else tells them to do.

Pick a few things that make your holiday special. Learn to delegate. And keep the gifts simple.

"Over the years, I have absorbed stress during the holidays with juggling children, family, cooking, working, shopping, and on top of it all trying to be creative with my gift ideas," she said. "Women believe that they have to do it all. They don't."

Gorkin, the Stress Doc, would agree. But he uses four "Fs" to express it.

Holidays don't have to measure up to anyone's fantasy. Don't expect too much from your family. Make sure you don't overdo it on the food. And try to give your love and attention rather than ruining your finances.

"I have a poetic mind, so I'm always looking for alliteration," he said about how he developed his advice. "I also like acronyms and expressions. I called my latest book Practice Safe Stress."

Gorkin is a licensed clinical social worker and motivational speaker and said his advice isn't new. It's offered by many other professionals. It's his packaging that's different. He said that's how you get people to listen and take the advice.

He believes those looking for answers should do a little research and "see what catches your eye, your heart, your soul."

He does have some peeves, though.

Ignore advice that tells you not to grieve a loss during the holidays if you need to grieve a little, he said. And ignore people who tell you to just not be stressed when the holidays are naturally stressful.

If none of this helps, there is much more out there for stressed families, stressed grad students and even stressed dogs, cats and birds. (Googling "Holiday Stress and Pets" gets almost 2 million hits.)

Oprah and Martha have ideas on their Web sites, too, of course.

There is even an audiotape available for $39.95 on Amazon.com called Reclaiming the Holidays -- A Self Hypnosis Tape Set.

And when all else fails, Gorkin says: Leave town.


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