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December 7, 2016

Tips For a Less Stressful Holiday Season

While a famous Christmas song calls the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day the “most wonderful time of the year,” some people feel the exact opposite as their stress levels elevate.

Waupaca Counselor Advice on Making Time with Family, Friends More Enjoyable

While a famous Christmas song calls the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day the “most wonderful time of the year,” some people feel the exact opposite as their stress levels elevate.

Stress levels run high during the holidays. A recent poll from the American Psychological Association found nearly a quarter of Americans reported feeling “extreme stress” during the holidays.

Holiday stress comes from a variety of sources, said Michelle Hastings, a licensed professional counselor with ThedaCare Behavioral Health-Waupaca. “There are a lot of expectations to meet, whether they are family expectations or expectations we see in commercials, newspaper and magazine advertisements or on social media,” she said. “The holidays present countless demands, including cooking, shopping and attending or hosting gatherings.”

Hastings said there are several steps people can take to lower their stress levels:

Be honest: If there are too many things on your to do list, speak up and ask for help. “Reach out to friends and family for support,” Hastings said.

Dial down expectations: Hastings said some people bring on additional stress by adopting the mindset their event needs to perfect or they need to meet someone else’s expectations. Remind yourself parties, gifts and meals do not need to be perfect and use your own standards, not what you see in a magazine or on a friend’s Facebook page, during the holidays.

Do what works for your family: Realize you do not need to continue every family tradition or attend every concert or get-together, Hastings said. “Celebrate in a way that best suits your situation and your family, and don’t compare it to how others celebrate,” she said.

Plan ahead: Sit down with a calendar and figure out what you want to get done over the holiday season and when, Hastings said. “Do a little bit at a time by setting small, attainable goals so as not to overwhelm yourself with everything you need to get done,” she said.

Take care of yourself: “The one thing that usually gets put on the backburner in times of high stress is self-care,” Hastings said. “It takes a backseat to everything else we feel ‘needs’ to get done.”

But those breaks are important since they help lower overall stress levels. Hastings suggested taking breaks by reading, going for a walk, playing a game with your family or calling a friend just to catch up. She added self-care is something can be done a little bit at a time, such as taking a quick, 10-minute walk or practicing some deep, well-controlled breathing.

“It’s amazing what a short break can do to reenergize us when we have a long to-do list to complete,” Hastings said.

Ask for help. If your stress level is making it difficult to carry on normal functions at work or at home, or you are feeling more anxious or sad than usual and it is not getting better, Hastings suggested reaching out to a mental health professional. He or she can help you develop coping strategies and help you address other problems you may have.

“Planning ahead, having realistic expectations, making sure to take time for yourself, and taking time to enjoy the season and those around you will help you have a less stressful holiday,” Hastings said.

For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,800 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 34 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.  The ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center in Appleton opened in February. For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.