Holidays can be stressful - planning can help

Although the Christmas season can be a joyful time of the year it can also be stressful.

While it is normal to experience ups and downs at any time, feelings are often magnified during the holidays, making it a difficult time for many people, said Kathy Rook, a marriage and family therapist with Arizona Counseling in Kingman.

"One of the main reasons people get depressed during the holidays is that their expectations are too high for the perfect family gathering," Rook said.

"Alcohol can complicate the situation.

People sometimes drink more during the holidays.

But alcohol is a depressant and lowers inhibitions, which may exacerbate family strife," she said.

The myth of the way families should be can lead to disappointment during the holidays.

"Don't expect a perfect family holiday.

Be realistic," she said.

Rook advises people to make sure to schedule some alone time.

"Give yourself time to regroup during a family gathering.

Take a walk or to the grocery store by yourself.

Don't try to do too many things.

Try to get the whole family involved in holiday tasks instead of one person trying to do it all," she said.

She said that instead of placing all the emphasis on gift giving, people should concentrate instead on the feelings they have for one another.

"Personally, I feel that it is better to give little gifts all year round.

It makes even small gifts seem more important and valued," she said.

"If Christmas becomes too commercial, it can lead to feelings of emptiness," she said.

David Reamy, a certified mental health therapist and substance abuse counselor, said one of the things that contributes to the holiday blues is that people have a magical picture of what the holidays with families are supposed to be.

"For one thing it can't happen if we don't have a family, or our families live too far away to visit during the holidays," Reamy said.

"When we get together with a family we haven't seen for awhile it often brings back old problems.

It doesn't fit the fairy tale picture," he added.

Reamy advises people to add a little bit of realism to the picture.

"When we expect life to be perfect, it creates extra pressure at Christmastime for everything to be wonderful."

Those with no family can get together with someone new to share their Christmas with.

If someone can't see their family, Reamy suggests calling them or writing them a long letter.

"Sometimes we can tell someone things in a letter that we would like to say in person," he said.

Dr.

Seymour Diamond, chairman of the National Headache Foundation said altered lifestyle patterns during the holidays are a prime cause of headaches.

"Long lines in a hot, crowded department store are enough to give the most ardent 'shop-a-holic' a tension-type headache," he said.

"This year, why not start holiday shopping early, slowly accumulating gifts for friends and loved ones."

Diamond also recommends practicing relaxation and stretching techniques - such as neck rolls and deep breaths - to release built up tension.

He said celebrations in smoke and perfume-filled rooms can also trigger headaches.

He advises people not to disrupt their normal sleeping and waking patterns during the holidays, and to avoid gorging on food and drink.