'Tis the Season for Holiday Stress
By Mika Ono
The holiday season is upon us. That means family, food,
"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 categoriescommon 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 concernssuch
as those related to flyingand economic uncertainty.
Military families may also face long and sudden absences from
"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
- 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
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.