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Anxiety and Stress Disorders

How Do I Handle Holiday Stress?

11/27/2001

Question:

The family is coming to our house for Christmas this year. We will have 4 overnight guests for 4 days and several more for Christmas Day. My husband and I are happy in our home, but family members have pointed out different "defects" in the past (i.e. noise level, drafty windows, furniture that needs rearranging), and I have a hard time enjoying myself when they visit. I know these things wouldn`t bother me if I were a guest in someone else`s home, but it REALLY stresses me out in my own home. Every time a dog starts barking, I feel tension mounting and I lose track of what I`m doing. I notice EVERYTHING that`s wrong. On top of it all, I have to cook for my family, usually with someone looking over my shoulder, and nothing tastes good to me when I cook for them. How can I get through the very stressful experience of playing holiday hostess?

Answer:

One has only to read Martha Stewart or Ann Landers to know that the holidays can be a stressful time for everyone. Luckily, there are plenty of suggestions and advice available to help people deal with the stress of the holidays.

The first step, however, is to make a commitment to change. If you aren’t sure you really want to do things differently, then success will be elusive. Here are some suggestions for your situation:

1. Hold a family meeting early in the holiday season with your immediate family. Talk about what is really important to each person and what can be left out. Decide where the priorities lie and make some decisions about how you will present a “united front” to visitors this holiday season. If the family agrees that spending time with friends is more important than keeping a spotless house or cooking a gourmet meal, then it is easier to say, “We decided this year to spend more time in conversation and less time in cleaning.”

2. Practice defusing stressful situations with a smile and an agreement. If the complaints made by visitors don’t get the expected response, they often decrease. Drafty windows? – “Yes, they are drafty aren’t they? This chair in the corner tends to be much warmer.” Misplaced furniture? – “I agree. We’ve never quite liked it there either, and plan to try some new locations for them next year.”

3. You do NOT need to accept insults aimed at you personally. Messy house? – Agree. Bad housekeeper? – No, it is a decision you and your family made to set different priorities this holiday season.

4. Child discipline experts suggest changing children’s behavior by telling them what you are going to do, not what you want the child to do. This sets up less of a power struggle, and the same advice can work with holiday guests.

For example, instead of telling your guest to go to the living room and not help you in the kitchen, say something like, “I already have my menu made and my cooking plans set up for this meal and will be working alone. If you would like to cook a meal tomorrow, I would be glad to arrange for that.”

5. Keep your personal stress level as low as possible with allowing yourself to say “no” to some parties, activities and needs this holiday season. Get sufficient rest, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious meals to keep your physical strength up.

Find some quiet time for yourself everyday, even if it is just 5 minutes locked in the bathroom or bedroom, away from the hustle and bustle.

Some regular physical exercise most days will also help as a stress defuser – it doesn’t have to be a 2 hour work-out, even a 10 – 15 minute walk around the block will help.

By anticipating, planning and practicing how you will change your behaviors with your guests and making sure your physical, emotional and spiritual health is looked after, you will probably find your holiday will be more pleasant and less stressful. Good luck and have a Merry Christmas!

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Response by:

Nancy   Elder, MD Nancy Elder, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati