Seminar Provides Tips on Coping with Holiday Stress

By Mika Ono

"Stress becomes a very relevant topic around the holidays," says Jan Hill, director of the Counseling and Postdoctoral Services Department of The Scripps Research Institute. "And this year the fires seemed to kick off the season early."

On December 8, clinical psychologist Martin Cary shared his insights into the topic with Scripps Research employees as part of the institute's ongoing Lunch and Learn seminar series.

What is stress?

According to Cary, stress is situated at the intersection of external forces—such as physical danger, time pressure, and negative family interactions—and a person's reaction to them—which can include feelings of unhappiness and irritability and physical symptoms such as sleeplessness, stomach upset, and high blood pressure.

Notable stressors include death of a loved one, divorce, menopause, unemployment, a major illness, time in jail—and, yes, the holidays.

"How you manage stressors is the mediating factor in how you experience stress," says Cary. "The key is to develop a healthy coping style."

Cary's tips on coping include:

  • Fostering realistic expectations. "High achievers especially need to work on this," Cary noted. "Ask yourself, 'Is it really reasonable to expect never to indulge in rich food over the holidays?' 'Is my 'to do' list too long?'"

  • Exercise. Study after study has shown that exercise elevates mood.

  • Avoidance. Take a day off when you need a break.

  • Make use of distractions. "Do the things you enjoy—be it going to the movies, sewing, or socializing."

  • Stay on a regular schedule. Sticking to a routine can help minimize stress.

  • Relax. Cary recommends deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, meditation, or any other technique that produces positive physiological changes.

"Relaxation is like anything else," he says. "The more you do it, the easier it is."








"The key is to develop a healthy coping style."

—Martin Cary