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Season of stress: How to deal with holiday pressure

by Anthony Raap
Dec 04, 2012


Anthony Raap/MEDILL

Personal trainer Joe Ingraffia helps a client work out at the Levy Senior Center in Evanston. Regular exercise is good way to relieve stress, Ingraffia said.

The three biggest holiday stressors are time, money and relationships, Pauline Wallin, a clinical psychologist in Camp Hill, Pa., said Tuesday.

“You’re pressed for time because you have a deadline. You have to get a lot done. And you’re pressed for money because there’s pressure to buy everybody that gift that they probably won’t need,” Wallin said.

On top of that, interacting with relatives can be stressful, especially if there is family tension.

A survey done for the American Psychological Association found 38 percent of people say their stress levels spike during the holidays.

Here are six tips to manage holiday stress:

Detach yourself

Don’t let family pressure get to you, Wallin said.

Many people dread family interaction, but worrying only compounds stress.

“The closer the date comes, you start thinking about how much you don’t want to go. What you’re doing is rehearsing how bad it’s going to be,” Wallin said.

If things start to get heated or tense when you’re with your family, “the best thing to do is pretend you’re watching a movie of these people,” Wallin said.

“It really helps you detach and you don’t feel the responsibility to fix anything, to intervene or to run away.”

If that doesn’t work, go in the other room for a few minutes or take a walk around the block.

Not-to-do list

List everything you want to get done during the holidays, then cross things off you know you won’t get around to.

“Time is limited, and you’re not going to get everything done,” Wallin said.

It helps to make this list before you hit a time crunch.

“Once you decide what you’re not going to do, you feel a sense of relief,” she said.

Stay active

Get to the gym and blow off some steam.

For many people, work is more stressful this time of year. End-of-the-year projects have to get done before going on vacation. As a result, exercise routines are discarded.

Amid all the holiday stress, set aside time for the gym, said Joe Ingraffia, a personal trainer in Evanston.
Eat in moderation

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, everyone is bombarded with sweets and other Christmas goodies.

It’s OK to indulge a little, but don’t overdo it.

“Portion control is a big thing we forget about over the holidays,” said Sarah Helt, a Chicago yoga instructor.

Stress causes some people to overeat, but this only worsens the problem. Chronic stress lowers metabolism and increases weight gain, Helt said.

Just breathe

Yoga and meditation help reduce stress. When you feel overwhelmed, take slow, deep breaths.

This brings more oxygen into your body and as you exhale, toxins are released, Helt said.

Another technique is to tell each part of your body to relax while inhaling and exhaling deeply, Ingraffia said.


Many people don’t get enough sleep during the holidays, said Dr. Jay Miller, a Chicago Department of Public Health volunteer.

A good night’s rest relieves a lot of stress. If you have trouble falling asleep, consult a doctor.