Nov 17, 2014
NEW YORK - 

The holidays may be the season of love and celebration, but there can be a fine line between festive and overwhelming. Crowded shopping centers, visits from out-of-town relatives, skyrocketing credit card bills, and the pressure of preparing holiday celebrations can all summon one overpowering reaction: stress.

Dr. Maria A. Oquendo, a psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, says, “During the holidays, our lives become even more stressful as we try to juggle our usual responsibilities with extra holiday preparation, expenses and sometimes complicated family dynamics.”

“The holidays can be challenging even under the best of circumstances. In the midst of the preparations and celebrations, it is important to pay attention to your emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Planning ahead for your wellness will put you in a better position to relax and enjoy this special time," says Dr. Alison Hermann, a psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Drs. Hermann and Oquendo offer tips to keep holiday stress to a minimum:

1. Seek out emotional support. If there are tensions within your family, try to plan some time with friends. If you feel isolated, seek out the support of your community, religious or social services. If you feel lonely, consider volunteering your time at an organization you support.

2. Take a 15-minute break. Between overcrowded houses and crammed dinner tables, 15 minutes of “alone time” may be just what you need to refresh yourself. Try taking a brisk walk around the block. Exercise is a great stress reliever, and a daily dose of winter sunlight can dramatically improve your mood. Meditation is another quick way to sneak in healthy downtime. Free lessons are offered at many local hospitals and community centers.

3. Prioritize your time. Understand that you can’t do everything, so choose the things that you can accomplish and enjoy. Get input from your family and friends about what it is they would really enjoy doing this holiday and get them involved in the preparations. This will help alleviate the stress of doing it all on your own.

4. Shop without anxiety. Remember that it’s the thought that counts. Don’t let competitiveness, guilt and perfectionism send you on countless shopping trips. Create a holiday shopping budget and stick to it, so the holiday bills don’t linger after the tinsel is gone. Shopping online can also help alleviate stress for those who find the crowded malls exhausting and time consuming.

5. Celebrate the memories of loved ones no longer here. Holidays can be emotional as we confront the memories of those who have passed away. This can be a normal part of the holiday experience and should be openly discussed and celebrated.

6. Plan ahead. You will have more time to spend doing the things that you really want to do if you set aside specific days for shopping, cooking and visiting friends. You may also want to plan your menu in advance and make one big shopping trip.

7. Put it all in perspective. Think about what the holiday really means to you and your family: time together, religious observance, reflection on your life and future goals — let these aspects of the holidays keep things in perspective. Don’t set unrealistic expectations for family get-togethers that will result in disappointment and frustration. Accept your family members and friends as they are and set aside grievances for a more appropriate time. Try to be gentle on yourself and others.

If you find that your depressed mood lingers, consider getting input from a mental health professional. Rates of anxiety and depression peak during the holidays; you don’t have to suffer unnecessarily. Help is available. For more information, patients may call (866) NYP-NEWS.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, based in New York City, is one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive hospitals and a leading provider of inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine. With some 2,600 beds and more that 6,500 affiliated physicians and 20,000 employees, NewYork-Presbyterian had more than 2 million visits in 2013, including close to 15,000 infant deliveries and more than 310,000 emergency department visits. NewYork-Presbyterian comprises six campuses: NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/Westchester Division and NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital. The hospital is also closely affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area, according to U.S. News & World Report, and consistently named to the magazine’s Honor Roll of best hospitals in the nation. Affiliated with two world-renowned medical schools, Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, NewYork-Presbyterian is committed to excellence in patient care, research, education and community service.

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