Coping With Stress and the Holidays

By Dr. Jack Singer


Coping with holiday stress by Dr. Jack SingerMore than twenty years ago, stress was the cover story in Time magazine. “Stress” was referred to as “The Epidemic of the Eighties,” and it was referred to as the nation’s number one health problem.

Flash forward to 2007. Results were released on December 12, 2007 from “Stress in America,” the American Psychological Association’s (APA) annual survey of stress in the general public in the U.S. The researchers interviewed 1848 adults 18 and over, and the interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

Seventy-nine percent of those surveyed believe that they cannot avoid stress and in the month prior to the survey, 77% of those surveyed experienced stress-related physical symptoms, including headaches, GI problems, and fatigue. Seventy-three percent admitted to emotional symptoms, including feeling nervous, lack of motivation, irritability, and anger. In addition, nearly half of Americans (43 percent) reported that stress negatively impacted their relationships with spouses or partners. A fourth of Americans believed that in the previous five years, their personal relationships suffered because of stress.

Since that report in 2007, the APA has found remarkably consistent findings each year. Add the holiday season to the mix, and for many, stress spikes even higher.

The domino effect of not controlling your stress levels is clear. Many studies have shown a direct link between stress and fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal diseases, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and macular degeneration.
We now understand that stress also impacts cholesterol levels, platelet activation (causing heart attacks), and shortened life span. Since sleeping difficulties negatively impact the immune system and lifespan and since stress is one of the main causes of insomnia, you can see your health and your life, itself, depend on taking charge of the stressors in your life.


For many people, stress levels spikeduring holiday season and here are the key reasons:

  • Many are nostalgic for the happy family experiences they had at this time of year and the family is now far away or is fractured by divorce and/or deaths
  • People who live alone often feel much worse around the holidays, which are viewed as times for people to come together to celebrate
  • If you are divorced and during the holidays you must split time with your children with your ex, it can be very frustrating and lonely
  • For many people, the winter months and the grey, gloomy weather increases depression and mood changes


It is important to remember that occasional or low levels of stress may actually be protective of our health! For example, stress makes us more vigilant to potential danger. So, totally eliminating our stress is not only impossible, but is probably not a good idea. It is prolonged and debilitating stress that is the culprit.

Both the National Mental Health Association and the American Psychological Association offer many recommendations to build resiliency against the inevitable stressors of life.

Here are a dozen ways to get started:

  • Recognize that it will never be a perfect world, even during the holidays, so go with the hand that has been dealt to you for these holidays. “It is what it is.” The holidays will pass quickly.
  • Become assertive and learn to say “no” to unreasonable time pressures and responsibilities that others put on you.
  • Exercise regularly, engaging in aerobic activities, and maintain good nutrition, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
  • Build relaxation time into your life and enjoy calming music or reading, especially during those times when you are not with family
  • Have a relaxing hobby that you enjoy and give yourself permission to engage in it each week, in order to distract your attention from stress-producing news on TV, for example.
  • Do one task at a time, instead of multi-tasking
  • Use the power of visualization to picture yourself engaging in relaxing, healthy pursuits and write down goals in order to accomplish those pursuits.
  • Use imagery, meditation or self-hypnosis to imagine accomplishing your goals peacefully, while letting go of situations over which you have little or no control.
  • Laugh each day, whether it’s from hearing or repeating jokes, watching funny videos or hanging around with funny people.
  • Stay away from highly tensed, negative people
  • Try to play with a pet each day.
  • Get professional help if you still feel overwhelmed and stressed.

Our world these days is filled with invitations to worry and feel hopeless. But events and situations only represent 10% of the stress in our lives. What we do about these events determines whether we will be overwhelmed or resilient. Begin practicing these dozen stress-busting tips and watch your life take a turn for the best!

Jack Singer, Ph.D.
Clinical/Sport Psychologist

Free 20 Minute Telephone Consultation with Psychologist Dr. Jack Singer


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