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Handling Holiday Stress

The holiday season is usually a time of joy and celebrating, but if we get too caught up in expectations and activities, it can also become a time of stress, depression, and anxiety. Jay Ostrowski, licensed professional counselor and executive director of Crossroads Counseling Center in Lexington SC, provides tips for managing increased stress that often comes with the holiday season.

Handling Holiday Stress
Columbia, SC, December 01, 2005 --( “Everyone experiences a certain amount of stress around the holidays,” says Carmella Broome, a counselor who specializes in marriage and family therapy at Crossroads Counseling Center in Lexington, SC. “The problem is that some of the business and excitement can turn into a more negative and destructive kind of stress if we aren’t careful about managing our time and energy.”

“Research shows that holidays produce just as much stress as the hard times,” reports Jay Ostrowski, licensed professional counselor and executive director of Crossroads. “We add to this stress by trying to do too many things. We put addded pressure on ourselves by trying to do everything perfectly, too.”

According to Ostrowski, it is time we change our holiday strategy to one that honors God. Following this path will produce the joy and fulfillment we seek each year. He recommends the following tips to keep your POISE during the stressful holiday season.

Prioritize people over perfection, and presents. Put first things first. Decide in advance what is really important to you. What is your reason for the season? A perfect dinner? Family time? Presents? Enjoying the gift of our Savior? Failure to set priorities and reasonable goals in advance can lead to heartache and disappointment when you expected joy and fulfillment.

“Growing up I recall an empty chair,” says Ostrowski. “The seat was vacated by my mother who was busily preparing this or that. In her well-meaning way she chased the dream of making the holidays perfect for all of us. Stressed, tired and irritable, her days and weeks of work were never quite good enough for her and could easily be crushed by a careless word of criticism.”

This “Martha syndrome” can keep you from enjoying God and your holiday. If your holiday happiness is threatened by a few critical comments then maybe your pursuits are misguided. Psalms 37:4 says “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”. Focus on what brings joy to our Saviour and you too will have your hearts desires fulfilled.

Organize yourself. If you are going to try to run the rat race again this year, do it well. At least do it with wisdom. Plan ahead and consider delegating some shopping, food preparation, tree and house decorating to lower your stress level and your blood pressure. Try making a folder with lists of “To Dos”, a calendar with plans and lists for cards, thank you notes and gift buying. Also, be a good steward by filling only half of your time with activity. Save the rest for time attention and affection with family and friends. Organize your finances as well. The anxiety you incur is never worth the brief thrills at gift giving time. Teach your kids to buy less and enjoy more.

Immunize yourself from stress by keeping healthy habits. Simple things like getting plenty of rest, exercise, water and vitamins can boost your defenses against illness, anxiety and depression. It is difficult to enjoy your vacation when you are sick, tired or anxious. Keep good eating habits by designating a healthy meal or two per day to boost your energy and immune system. Too much junk food and sugar in your body can set you on an emotional roller-coaster ride that you may want to avoid. Pace yourself by squeezing all the enjoyment out of each bite you take of those sweets. You will actually eat less and enjoy it more. Also, plan to get plenty of sleep. This is the body’s self-defense against sickness. If you don’t prioritize rest, no one else will for you.

Socializing is another easy way to immunize from stress. This should include both fun and quality time with a spouse, your friends, by yourself and with God. Even a deposit of 15 minutes per day can maintain the emotional bank account needed for surviving stress well. So, have fun! “Love each other deeply from the heart” (I Pet. 1:22). Build, repair and establish the reservoir of relationships that will last long after the holidays. You will find that these moments are the most memorable and meaningful gifts. Even if you are feeling reclusive, a small dose of positive relational time can help bring back a positive perspective. On the other hand, some of us are pulled in too many directions. Learn the art of saying “No” to too many activities. Remember, planning less relieves your stress.

Empathize. When the stress does hit take time to express yourself to someone else. Holidays bring up lots of past pain. Use the blessing of your relationships to vent before your stress erupts onto others through rage, or leads you to depression. As we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, let His peace rule in your heart (Col. 3:15) as you speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Remember to cast your cares on Him (I Pet. 5:7), bear each others burdens (Gal. 6:2), and share in His comfort (2 Cor. 1:4).

The most valuable gifts you can give this year are your time, attention and affection with family, friends, yourself and your Lord. Take the time to build on what will last, on what is important by keeping your “POISE”. When the food is gone, the boxes are empty, the toys are broken and discarded, all that will remain are the memories you made and the impact you had on someone else's life. What statement will you leave behind?

If you think you may need some extra help handling stress this holiday season, call Crossroads Counseling Center at (803)808-1800. A caring and skilled counselor can help you address your concerns and get the most out of the holidays. You may also visit our website at

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Crossroads Counseling Center
Jay Ostrowski, exec director

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