Combat holiday blues, fight stress with helpful hints from ACS
While the holidays are a joyful time, they can also be a source of stress. Learning how to handle that stress can keep the holiday season enjoyable.
A wide variety of holidays, both secular and religious, are celebrated in November and December. No matter what holidays a family celebrates, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the hectic round of activities and associated expenses. And military members can have added stressors and expenses, said Program Manager Carmen Ortiz for the Exceptional Family Member Program with Army Community Service (ACS).
Holidays cause additional pressure and increase expectations and responsibilities, Ortiz said. In addition, military members often deal with separations, whether it’s because a parent is deployed or because they’re stationed away from their family.
One way to deal with separations during the holidays is to celebrate together at another time. Celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas at the same time or pick another day when time or money is less tight to get together with friends or family.
“Thanksgiving or Christmas could be any day of the year,” Ortiz said.
Planning ahead can help people avoid last-minute stressors,” Ortiz said. Pack ahead of time for a trip. Schedule pickups or drop-offs ahead of time. Plan on picking up dinner instead of cooking. Drop off pets a day in advance if they need to be boarded and time is tight.
Avoid financial stress by setting a budget and sticking to it, Ortiz said. It’s easy to overspend during the holidays. Don’t feel pressured to join group gift exchanges if you don’t feel like you can afford it.
If parents want to get an expensive video game or other toy, considering buying something that’s appropriate for the whole family to share. Parents can then purchase less expensive items for individual presents.
“It’s not the price of the gift that’s important,” she said. “It’s the time spent together and the thought put into the gift.”
Time management is especially important during the holidays, Ortiz said. Space out shopping so you don’t have to rush around buying presents at the last minute. Purchase gifts for children before vacation starts so they can be wrapped and hidden before they’re home all day. Trade off on holiday parties when possible so one parent isn’t overwhelmed by ferrying the children to every activity.
Try to focus on what you can do during the holiday season instead of what you can’t, Ortiz said. Share traditions with others and learn about new ones if you can’t make it home for a holiday.
“Look for something positive. Accept that you have no control over deployments or other issues out of your control,” Ortiz said. “Stay connected with others — other military families, your friends, or people from your church. Look for other support groups if you’re separated from your family.”
Self-care is important to help combat stress, Ortiz said. Take time to relax during the holidays, and relaxation takes different forms for different people.
“Read a book if you like to read. Watch movies or work on a scrapbook — whatever makes you relax,” Ortiz said. “It could be taking a walk at a mall or sitting on a bench to watch people.”
Meditation, prayer, music, or participating in a spa day are other options that many people find relaxing. Even giving in to your feelings for a little while can be helpful if it helps reduce the stress afterward.
“You know you can’t do anything by crying, but it makes you feel better because you’re deflating,” Ortiz said. “You’re taking all that negative energy … out of the system.”
It’s important to reduce or eliminate stress whenever possible because of the unhealthy effects that too much stress can have on the body.
“Stress can affect you physically, mentally, and emotionally,” Ortiz said. “You don’t sleep well; you don’t eat well. Or you go to the other side of the pendulum: you start overeating or drinking or smoking.”
Army Community Service offers a number of programs to help military members and government civilians manage stress. To get help during the holidays or any other time of year, call 608-388-3505 to learn what programs are available.