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Dealing with Holiday/Winter STRESS!

The winter season doesn’t have to a blue because you have too much on your plate. The holiday season and its associated pressures – such as trying to do what you think others want done – can add to the stress of daily living.

“We help people this time of year to get truly smart about what needs to be done immediately and what can be postponed to a later time,” said Lori Byg, coordinator of the UVMC Employee Assistance Program. The program provides counseling and wellness training for local businesses and organizations from manufacturers to school systems and small businesses.

Byg said the key issue in the last 18 months has been financial stress and its effect on individuals and, especially, families. The pressure trickles down to the children as the EAP is seeing more families seeking counseling assistance, she said.

For those already vulnerable because of other stressors, the pressure of the holidays can put them on overload.

To cope, it is important to also decide “what responsibility is mine, and what is not, and then respond accordingly,” Byg said.

Other stressors, in addition to financial, are family dynamics that often surface at holiday time.

“We work with people to understand that process and realize when there is this much going on, you take a deep breath and decide not to engage on those issues,” Byg said.

That does not mean avoiding the issues, but stepping back. “In another month or two, there might be a better perspective or better way to deal with it,” Byg said.

The key in holiday coping is to look at your expectations, said Ann Zgonc Moyer, executive director of the Miami County Mental Health Center/UVMC.  Be realistic and don’t put undue pressure on yourself, she said.

“The biggest part is to set realistic goals and remember what is really important. It is not how many cookies you bake, how many packages you wrap. It is about your belief system for the season, spending time with family and friends,” Moyer said.

Each year, holiday stress indicators start surfacing in October, Byg said. For many people, that stress drops off at the actual holiday. The exception usually is those who are in crisis or more fragile.

Counselors hear from them increasingly after the holidays are over. But, the problem really increases in January when people are past the holiday excitement and trying to deal with unfulfilled expectations, colder weather and depression from gloomy days.

“January, February, and March are in many ways more stressful,” Byg said. “Winter stress is more of a grinding stress. Pre-holiday stress is a lot of frantic, self-imposed stress.”

The approach to dealing with each is different.  For the holidays, you need to slow down. With the winter stress, you need to focus more on coping skills and self-nurturance.

“During the holiday season, they have a lot going on. Part is a let down because they are busy then, boom, nothing is going on,” Moyer said.

During the initial months of the year, people should schedule things they enjoy such as a spa day or getting together with friends for dinner. “Give yourself something to look forward to,” Moyer said.

When bad weather is likely, it is best, again, to plan ahead. “Look at the bright side of things. If you have a snow day, watch the snow, enjoy a good book,” she said.

More information is available from the UVMC EAP program at (937) 440-7263. Or by e-mail to lbyg@uvmc.com.  The Crisis Center operated by Miami County Mental Health is available 24-7. It can be reached at 335-7148 or 1-800-351-7347.

For further information on stress and other health-related topics, visit www.uvmc.com.

TIPS  For Reducing Winter Stress

  • Increase Vitamin D intake
  • Get at least 30 minutes of direct sunlight, even if through a window
  • Environmentally, do more things to bring in more light and color
  •  Get some sort of exercise such as stretching, dancing, cardiovascular, etc.
  • Break your schedule down into short-term steps and plans. It is a lot easier to get through a plan for a week or two versus looking at everything on a large plate the next three months.

(Sources: Lori Byg, Ann Zgonc Moyer, Tri-County Board of Mental Health newsletter)