NEW YORK — Crowded, bustling malls, repeated trips to the airport to fetch long-lost relatives, and the constant shuffling of cookies and turkey out of your oven can translate into one reaction: stress. Christmas may be the season of love and celebration, but sometimes holiday festivities can become overwhelming.
Dr. Mallay Occhiogrosso, a psychiatrist at the Payne Whitney Clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, says, “Overly high expectations for the holidays — be it around the food, the gifts, the family relationships — are a setup for many, and can trigger anxiety and even depression. Prioritizing self-care is important, as well as dialing down those unrealistic ‘Hallmark holiday’ fantasies.”
“During the holidays, our lives become even more stressful as we try to juggle our usual responsibilities with extra holiday preparation and complicated family dynamics,” says Dr. Eric Marcus, a psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.
Drs. Occhiogrosso and Marcus suggest that you try to keep your holiday stress to a minimum this year with the following advice:
- Build self-care into your schedule. If you have family difficulties, try to plan some time with friends. If you feel isolated, you may want to seek out the support of your community, religious or social services. If you feel lonely, you might consider volunteering your time at an organization you support.
- Self-care can be simple. Fifteen minutes of “alone time” may be just what you need to refresh yourself to handle all of your tasks. Try taking a brisk walk around the block or engaging in some other outdoor activity. Exercise is a great stress reliever, and a daily dose of winter sunlight can dramatically improve your mood.
- Don’t be a perfectionist. Prioritize the events that matter the most to you and your family. Understand that you can’t do everything, so choose the things that you can accomplish and enjoy. Get input from your family and friends about what it is they would really enjoy doing this holiday. You may find that your expectations are higher than everyone around you.
- For gift shopping, it’s the thought that counts. Money does not equal love — don’t let competitiveness, guilt and perfectionism send you on too many shopping trips. Create a holiday shopping budget and stick to it, so the holiday bills don’t linger after the tinsel is gone.
- Simplify. Don’t bake 20 different types of cookies unless you enjoy it. You and your family may enjoy fewer cookies but more time together. You may also try asking for help. Getting your family and friends involved in the holiday preparations may alleviate the stress of doing it all on your own.
- Remember that family time can be both wonderful and anxiety-provoking. Sometimes, expectations for reunions are too high, resulting in disappointment and frustration. Try to be realistic. Accept your family members and friends as they are and set aside grievances for a more appropriate time.
- Celebrate the memories of loved ones no longer here. Holidays can also be stressful as we confront the memories of those who have passed. This can be a normal part of the holiday experience and should be openly discussed and celebrated.
- Plan your time so that you take care of several errands on one trip. You will have more time to spend doing the things that you really want to do. Set aside specific days for shopping, cooking and visiting friends. You may also want to plan your menu in advance and make one big shopping trip.
- Take some time to think about what the holiday really means to you and your family. Time together, religious observance, reflection on your life and future goals — let these aspects of the holidays keep things in perspective.
- If you find that your depressed mood lingers, consider getting input from a mental health professional . Rates of anxiety and depression peak during the holidays; you don’t have to suffer unnecessarily. Help is available.
These tips can help you to reduce stress and make the holidays a pleasure. Doing less may help you to enjoy the season more, and that is really the best stress reliever of all.
For more information, patients may call (866) NYP-NEWS.
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, based in New York City, is the nation’s largest not-for-profit, non-sectarian hospital, with 2,409 beds. The Hospital has nearly 2 million inpatient and outpatient visits in a year, including 12,797 deliveries and 195,294 visits to its emergency departments. NewYork-Presbyterian’s 6,144 affiliated physicians and 19,376 staff provide state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine at five major centers: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division. One of the most comprehensive health care institutions in the world, the Hospital is committed to excellence in patient care, research, education and community service. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area and is consistently ranked among the best academic medical institutions in the nation, according to U.S.News & World Report. The Hospital has academic affiliations with two of the nation’s leading medical colleges: Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. For more information, visit www.nyp.org.