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De-stress Your Holidays

This article appeared in a 2015 issue of the student newsletter.

Family and friends can push the wrong buttons. They know you, and even after years of therapy, they can send the most emotionally stable holiday celebrant into a tailspin. 

Here are a few tips from DCCCD experts about how to add some peace to your holidays.

1. Remember, Less Is More

Slow down. Smell the flowers. You don't have to attend every family event, run to every sale or purchase gifts for everyone who buys for you, human behavior experts say. 

"The holidays have become an all-too-familiar hustle and bustle," said Johnny Castro, a faculty member who specializes in family studies and human development at Brookhaven College. "Take a stance against overdoing and overspending during the holidays. I tell people all the time that less is more."

Castro sees holidays as a great time to see family and friends — but not all during the rush of the season. Sending regrets is not a social blunder. "You can't make every event, and you shouldn't," Castro said. "Avoid the hype. Don't create an environment of overstimulation."

Children come with their own set of unrealistic expectations. Oftentimes, their toys are not toys but "blow-up-the-budget" electronics, Castro observed. 

"Take a stance against 'more is more,'" he said. "It is important to make and stick to a holiday budget because all of those December sales will become bills in January."

2. Care for Those in Need

In addition to monitoring children, keep tabs on the elderly. Castro suggests checking for signs of fatigue and stress in older adults. Sometimes a short walk or a quick nap is in order.

For people who are already overspent, overwrought and overindulged, experts suggest a self-imposed "time out" for the entire family, including children.

3. Prioritize Needs over Wants

Children are grand manipulators. They know how to get what they want. But parents have the power to set limits, Castro said. 

"If they have one or two really good gifts, that's probably enough," Castro said. "Parents feel the need to want to buy all of these things. A 2-year-old getting a phone is probably something you need to hold off on."

Instead, parents should concentrate on a child's needs. Usually, one or two items are sufficient. 

"Parents feel validated if they buy something the child really needs," Castro said. "Children get bored easily. Whatever gift you buy, they end up playing with the box. It's really easy to get into the trap of buying what's popular rather than what the child needs or is interested in."

4. Embrace Loss 

The holidays also can be difficult for people who have lost family members during the year. Expecting a perfect holiday is especially trying for those who have lost loved ones, said Steve Carter, who teaches human behavior and psychology at El Centro College.

"Sometimes it's hard to move completely away from a loss, so embrace the memories and share them," Carter said. "And know that extended sadness may be a sign of seasonal depression." 

Castro suggests writing down a pleasant memory on a piece of colored paper, wrap ribbon around it and share that memory on Christmas or New Years. Seek out professional help during profound periods of sadness. "Don't suffer in silence," Carter added.

5. Find Health Outlets

We can focus on other activities as we celebrate the holidays, Carter added. Volunteering is a healthy outlet that can make the holidays special. "If you find yourself lonely, often the most important gift you can give is caring," Carter said. "Volunteer opportunities abound. Find one that's meaningful to you, and make helping a tradition. You may find yourself happier after giving your time."

Alcohol should be limited to an acceptable amount because drinking does not make holidays less stressful. Instead, it magnifies problems, Carter said.

Here are some of the best coping tips for the holidays offered by experts:


  1. Laugh, because it can carry away stress.
  2. Sing or play music.
  3. Breathe.
  4. Eliminate early morning rush by getting up a few minutes earlier.
  5. Sleep 7 to 8 hours a day.
  6. Eat well-balanced meals.
  7. Hydrate.
  8. Exercise.
  9. Smile, because January will soon be here.