Handling Holiday Stress: Tips to Manage

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Handling Holiday Stress

Holidays can stress you out and make diabetes self-management harder. Last week I wrote about the issues of feasting, treats, and drinking. But what about holiday stress?

For many of us, family get-togethers make holidays special, but they can be stressful, can’t they? This year my neighbor Walter invited his ex-wife, three young-adult children, and their partners to Thanksgiving at the apartment he shares with his disabled fourth son, Maurice. Things were going well for a while, but after the drinking started, some long-simmering tensions came to the surface.

When the shouting was done, Walter had been kicked out of the apartment, and one of the brothers moved in. Walter is crashing with a friend in the East Bay. Maybe it’s for the best — Walter and Maurice needed a change — but it goes to show that holidays can be tough.

For many, holiday get-togethers bring up old wounds and old conflicts. For others, buying, giving, and receiving presents can be stressful and expensive. Holidays often involve travel, which can disrupt your usual life patterns and diabetes management.

Dealing with family stress
In an article on WebMD, R. Morgan Griffin says much holiday suffering comes because people feel they have to do family traditions they really don’t want to do. He advises, “Don’t unthinkingly do things the same way just because that’s how you always do them. If the old holiday traditions aren’t working, if they’re not making you happy and [are] causing holiday stress, it’s time to do something different.”

With holiday gatherings, if you suspect it will be stressful, have your escape plan ready. Physical health can provide an unassailable excuse. “I’m sorry I’m so tired. I’m afraid I might be getting the flu” will get you out of any unwanted party.

Don’t be afraid to play the diabetes card when it comes to passing up unwanted sweets or drinks. And when people get on to their second or third drink, it might be time to leave anyway.

According to Griffin, reducing stress means pacing yourself. “Long before the family gatherings actually happen,” he writes, “decide on some limits and stick to them. Stay one or two nights at your parents’ house instead of three or four. Plan to drop by the holiday party for a couple of hours instead of staying all night.”

Holiday spending
Financial stress can raise your blood pressure throughout the holidays. You want to be a thoughtful giver, but how will you pay for it? The website Bankrate.com says you don’t necessarily have to spend to give. You can make things; you can give of yourself.

Among other suggestions, they advise, “If you’re already baking cookies for your family, making an extra batch as a present for a neighbor is fairly economical. Want to help a friend who’s got a lot on her plate? Offer to babysit, walk the dog or take an elderly relative for an outing. The cost is next to nothing, but the gift is priceless.”

You’re probably more creative than you think. Are there gifts you can make with your hands, even if they’re only simple artwork and a sweet personal message? These days it’s easy to create attractive messages with clip art or images you download and print out. People appreciate the personal effort as much as the money you would have spent.

Can you create a pleasurable day for a relative with an outing and a meal? That would be a lovely gift.

Other ways to save money: E-cards are cheaper and more ecologically sound than printed ones. Thrift stores can be sources of affordable treasures, if you’re willing to take the time to look. Learn to say no to kids who want everything they see on TV. Too many toys don’t make kids any happier.

Donating money or time is a great gift. Not everybody likes having “their” gift donated to someone else, but almost nobody complains. People are in need all over the world; helping others is truly the spirit of the holidays.

I’m not planning on giving any store-bought gifts at all this year. All my gifts will be homemade stuff or contributions to good causes. I believe this plan will prevent holiday stress. Unselfishness makes for better relationships in a family or at work.

Some other tips
• Holiday socializing will bring you in contact with lots of germs, exposing you to flus and colds. Wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, and, if your doctor thinks it’s a good idea, take some vitamin C to protect yourself. You might also want to get a flu shot if you haven’t yet.

• Because nights are long around the holidays, people can become depressed. We might think the holidays are getting us down, when it’s really seasonal affective disorder (SAD). You might try a full spectrum light or, if your doctor recommends it, vitamin D supplements if there’s not much sunlight where you live. Physical activity also lifts your spirits.

If you’re alone at the holidays, you actually have a lot of company. A lot of people “feel guilty or blame themselves if they’re alone,” says clinical psychologist Jason Kornrich, PhD. Instead of beating yourself up, make your own plans to not be alone. Invite someone over, go visit people who may also be lonely, or celebrate being alone if that works for you. WebMD has ideas in this article, “Alone for the Holidays.”

Wishing you happy and meaningful holidays. May all your holiday stress be positive!

Frustrating as it can be, diabetes provides incredible training for the mind, says Scott Coulter. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.

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