The holidays got you anxious? Experts offer tips to enjoy the season without stress

Cliff Sapper, lead psychologist and director of clinical services for the behavioral health service line for Ascension Illinois, says practicing self-care and expressing gratitude is one of the keys to a stress-free holiday season. Paul Valade/

May the holiday season be joyous, filled with family gatherings, goodwill and exchanging gifts.

This can also be a time full of stress and anxiety. Finding ways to cope can be just as important as finding the perfect gift for a loved one.

Experts say feelings of overwhelming responsibility and financial worry are common for many people during the holidays.

Deborah Stamm, a nurse practitioner at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital’s Center for Health and Integrative Medicine, said people are overworked, overworked, and stressed, especially during the holidays, when to-do lists become ever longer. Is. And the image that sometimes comes to my mind is of ducks on a pond, where the ducks seem to be swimming peacefully, but under the water their flippers are moving very fast.

Karen Wolonick Albert, CEO of Recovery Centers of America, said the holidays bring an added risk for people struggling with substance abuse, given the frequency of social gatherings and increased opportunities for alcohol and drug use.

One way to manage stress during the holidays is to strengthen your social connections, as well as be selective with your time off, said Clifton Seper, chief clinical psychologist at Ascension Illinois.

That said, stay connected to your friends and your family and maybe let go of people who are (part of) toxic relationships. Nowhere does it say you have to include everyone in your celebrations.

He also recommends volunteering, for example, at a food bank or animal shelter—a good way to boost one’s mood and strengthen relationships.

It’s important to set realistic expectations, Sapper said

I often tell my patients, listen, if you feel like you have to write a holiday card on your 50 list that you always do every year, you don’t have to do that. And if it’s causing you stress and you’re not happy doing it, let it go.

Know that not every family is the Waltons, Sapper said, referencing the ’70s television family. There will be differences of opinion. It’s just family dynamics. You can’t use the holidays to repair many relationships. That repair takes communication, takes time, and actually takes work.

Cliff Seper, chief psychologist of the behavioral health service line for Ascension Illinois and director of clinical services, says strengthening important social connections and avoiding toxic relationships can help reduce stress during the holidays. (Paul Valade/ Paul Valade/

Sapper also recommends practicing self-care, including taking time to relax and go outside instead of sitting on the couch watching TV.

And perhaps most importantly, it is an opportunity and time of year to demonstrate gratitude. What am I grateful for that happened this year?

Stamm, of the Good Shepherd Center for Health and Integrative Medicine, said holiday stress can be relieved through lifestyle choices in areas such as exercise, nutrition, environment and sleep.

She also recommends breathing exercises that ground anyone in the moment. One deep belly breathing technique she loves to teach is the 4, 7, 8 breath.

You inhale deeply from your abdominal space through your nose for a count of four and then hold for a count of seven, and then you exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. And this signals the entire system to relax, she said.

Recovery Centers of America are available to people who need help during the holidays, including Christmas Eve and Christmas, Albert said. He said people who want outpatient services can call 1-800-RECOVERY and receive a confidential screening. Or people in need can get it through the live chat function on the organization’s website.

He said, we want people not to remain isolated. Isolation is really dangerous in terms of addiction, but also in recovery.

People who are struggling with a substance use disorder who are attending events where drugs and alcohol may be available may want to bring a sober friend or someone who knows, Albert said. Helps in their recovery. She also recommends bringing your own favorite beverage, like a favorite soda or flavored water.

Psychotherapist and author Lori Gottlieb said in a recent webinar called Surviving the Holidays with Lori Gottlieb that people should remember that they are free to celebrate the holidays the way they choose, and not be bound by traditions.

He said, family is what we define as our family. And you can define any family you want to live with.

The Wheel of Health, developed by the Vanderbilt Osher Center and recommended by the Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital Center for Health and Integrative Medicine, is an example of an integrative model for holistic health. (Courtesy of Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital Center for Health and Integrative Medicine) Courtesy of Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital Center for Health and Integrative Medicine

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