Holiday stress is real; experts say take it easy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 27, 2008

NATCHEZ — Carve the turkey, wrap the gifts, yell at the kids, fight with the in-laws — the holidays are here again.

While the holidays are meant to be a joyous time, local mental health professionals say unrealistic expectations, depression, financial strain and heightened anxiety simply ruin the holidays for many.

Clinical Psychologist Dr. Linda Wilbourn said one of the easiest things people can do to avoid unnecessary holiday stress is to stick with their normal routine.

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While many love going to multiple holiday parties, Wilbourn said, for some it’s just too stressful and should be avoided.

“Don’t overcompensate,” she said. “If you don’t want to go then don’t go.”

Wilbourn said it’s the stress that comes with feeling obligated to do more than normal, like going to parties, that makes the holidays unenjoyable for many.

But for some the pressure and stress that comes with the holiday season is more serious than trying to make it to too many social engagements.

Licensed marriage and family therapist MaryAnn Simons said for many the holidays only serve to magnify the problems already in their lives and are something that must be endured, not enjoyed.

“It’s a difficult time for a lot of people,” Simons said.

She said it is typical for those facing divorce, the recent loss of a loved one, depression or financial hardship to view the holidays as something that they “just have to make it through.”

And it’s for that reason that Simons and Wilbourn said they see a rush of clients after the holidays have passed.

Simons said it’s one of her busiest times of the year.

“They’ve made it through the holidays and it’s like a down-letting,” she said.

Simons said one of the most important things for those having trouble dealing with the holidays to remember is that they aren’t alone with their problems.

“Everybody has problems,” Simons said.

Simons suggests if someone knows of a family member or friend having difficulties dealing with the holidays — they need to reach out to that person.

“They need to know they’re not alone,” she said.

And both Simons and Wilbourn agree that self-medicating with drugs or alcohol isn’t a smart way to manage holiday stress.

When Simons talks about managing stress or problematic life issues she uses the analogy of a journey that must be completed to solve the problem.

And drug and alcohol abuse won’t aid that journey.

“They’re a detour,” she said. “The next day your problems are still there.”