The full story of the holiday season – Tips to cope with and reduce stress

  • Published
  • By Col. Scot Spann
  • 21st Medical Group commander
Today, we find ourselves right in the middle of an amazing winter holiday season! This eason of joy and celebration brings so many reasons to be thankful. However, the season often brings unwelcome guests — increased stress, feelings of loneliness or depression. Being a part of the world’s best military, whether retired, dependent, contractor, civilian or active duty, we are a family and no one is left behind. Therefore, as we move forward into this year’s holiday season, please consider the following tips for dealing with the stressors of the season.

Set realistic expectations and plan ahead. Just thinking about all of the things to prepare for during the holiday season can be overwhelming; spending time with loved ones, entertaining guests, shopping, cooking, cleaning, making travel arrangements, and the list goes on! Take a moment to slow down and plan things out. Make lists of items you may need and list “action steps” for more complicated items that require a bit more planning. Begin writing your lists, organizing, prioritizing, and grouping tasks together. See if you can identify items that are lower in priority and may not be necessary to ensure you are able to complete the higher priority items. Additionally, begin to coordinate a timeline that will allow you to accomplish all of your plans ahead of time to avoid last minute scrambling.

Stick to a budget. When you are making your gift lists, determine how much you are planning to spend on each individual and stick to the plan! Consider the option of pooling resources with friends or family members to buy group gifts or making handmade gifts. You may even offer a gift of your time (i.e., babysitting, cleaning, or helping out with a project). Remember, it’s the thought that counts.

Prepare for the busyness.
The holiday season is packed with potlucks, school plays, social gatherings and late-night parties. The hustle and bustle seems to be as much a part of the holiday season as giving gifts and greetings of good will. So, if you find yourself stuck in a long line or getting elbowed and bumped as you walk through the crowded aisles of a store, don’t forget that your attitude and reaction are choices within your control. Instead of feeling frustrated and annoyed, consider introducing humor into the situation, practicing kindness, or connecting with those around you. If you feel like there is a party scheduled every single day and it is becoming overwhelming, then remind yourself that sometimes it is okay to say “no.”

Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t stop doing all of the things that are a part of your typically healthy routine. Consider having a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you might be less likely to go overboard on sweets, savory foods, or drinks. Make sure you get plenty of sleep-- prioritize rest to handle the extra activities of the season. Find ways to incorporate regular physical exercise into each day.

Slow down and breathe! One of the most important things we can do when we are feeling stressed is to step back, make time for ourselves, and sometimes, just breathe. Partition off at least 10 or 15 minutes each day to do something alone, without distraction. Consider taking a walk around the neighborhood to view the holiday decorations. Listen to relaxing or enjoyable music. Get a massage. Read a book. And take some slow, deep breaths as you do!

Seek professional help if needed. Sometimes the holiday season can be particularly tough. Seek support from your wingman, friends, family, and confidants whom you trust. If you find that’s not helpful and you are feeling off in some way (maybe you can’t sleep, you’re feeling irritable all the time, you can’t concentrate, you can’t seem to get motivated, you are plagued by physical complaints, or feel hopeless), then reach out to one of the many helping agencies available. You may wish to speak to a chaplain, a Military Family Life Counselor (available through the Airman and Family Readiness Center), or a mental health professional. Remember no one should feel alone and there are many resources to help in this stressful season.

During this holiday season, remember to be a good friend; whether that is a wingman, battle buddy, or shipmate, we are all family in the military. Look out for each other and be available to support one another through this potentially stressful season. Also, take the time to reflect on what is important, take time for yourself and acknowledge your feelings, be realistic, set aside differences, and celebrate this season in a way that is meaningful to you!