'Tis the Season for Holiday Stress

By Mika Ono

The holiday season is upon us. That means family, food, festivities—and stress.

"Stress is a big issue around the holidays," said Jan Hill, director of Employee and Graduate Student Counseling at a recent Personal Skills for Life and Work seminar entitled Coping with the Holidays in a Troubled World. "And because the country is at war, there are additional stressors that didn't exist last year."

Clinical pyschologist Jeff Jones, who recently joined TSRI's Employee and Graduate Student Counseling Department, agreed that whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year, coping with the holidays can be a challenge. Defining stress as any situation in which perceived demands exceed perceived resources, Jones divided sources of stress into two categories—common stressors and those related to an individual's personal situation.

Among the common stressors that Jones, Hill, and participants of the seminar discussed were: visitors, relatives, social events, holiday cards, gift buying, obligations, time limitations, and financial concerns. Stressors related to an individual's personal situation often include the recent death of a loved one, divorce, or children leaving home. And if you come from a country with different social and religious traditions, that can mean stress, too.

New stressors this year include safety concerns—such as those related to flying—and economic uncertainty. Military families may also face long and sudden absences from loved ones.

"While it is tragic how they have come about, there are gains as well losses from recent world events," comments Hill. "People are reevaluating their priorities and looking at their lives with a new perspective."

"Stress is not necessarily negative," Jones added. "Positive events such as marriage, the birth of a child, and a new job are stressful, too. The important thing is to pay attention to your own internal 'meter' of stress. If you are getting overloaded, take steps to cope."

Some practical tips for coping include:

  • Take care of yourself. This could include giving yourself some downtime, perhaps by reading a book, going to a movie, or getting away. Eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising, and limiting caffeine and alcohol intake are also important aspects of self-care.

  • Set limits. Say "no" to activities that take a lot of effort but are not meaningful to you.

  • Reevaluate your responsibilities. Perhaps you don't have to write personal notes on every single Christmas card. Maybe it would be O.K. if a Christmas present didn't arrive until after December 25.

  • Adjust your expectations. Expect delays when traveling. Anticipate family dynamics.

  • Evaluate relationships. Limit time with individuals who you feel take more from you than they give.

  • Laugh. Don't take things too seriously.

  • Keep it in perspective. Ask yourself, "Will this matter many years from now?"

  • Volunteer. Focus on the needs of others. TSRI's ScrippsAssists provides opportunities to volunteer in the community.

  • Breathe! Breathing deeply is an effective technique for calming anxiety and shifting your focus inward. It can help you cope more effectively.

For more information on the Employee and Student Counseling Department, which offers free, confidential counseling to TSRI employees and their families, contact Hill or Jones at x4-2950.



Jeff Jones, a clinical psychologist who recently joined TSRI's Employee and Graduate Student Counseling Department, speaks with Jan Hill, who heads the department, before a seminar entitled "Coping with the Holidays in a Troubled World." Photo by Mika Ono.