Set priorities to avoid end-of-the-year stress

Set priorities to avoid end-of-the-year stress


CARBONDALE, IL—Barbara G. Elam, stress management coordinator at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, talks the talk and walks the walk. She has some advice for beating end-of-year stress.

Elam has 25 years as a licensed counselor, including 21 years at the Wellness Center.

Holiday stress comes from “too high expectations,” according to Elam. “It comes from wanting to be everything to everybody, to make it the best Christmas ever, to give the best gifts ever,” she said. “But it’s just not like a Hallmark card. There are arguments and disappointments. You can’t find the best gifts; you feel like you’ve never made enough, that you should have made those cookies. It always seems that there’s more that could have been done.”

Her remedy: Simplify. But Elam acknowledges that’s easier said than done, particularly in trying to satisfy children’s expectations at Christmas.

“That might be an area to prioritize,” she said. “What’s most important? Maybe children are, or a spouse. On top of that, you don’t necessarily have to have a gift for everyone you work with or for everyone in the family. Find ways to compromise on other areas after you decide on one top priority.”

Planning and communicating now what’s possible and what’s not can reduce stress levels, too.

“Talk now about what you’re going to do during the holidays,” Elam said. “Are we taking the same trip we always take, or can we use that money some other way? Are we going to have a Christmas party? Get some consensus on what everybody wants to do. Talk about cutting back. Take a vote on what we can give up. Ask for help.”

She said the techniques “you hear about all the time” for dealing with stress remain true, regardless of the season.

“Take a break, talk a walk, have a hot bath, do a little stretching, even just taking time out to laugh, maybe watch a funny movie,” Elam said. “Don’t overindulge in alcohol, don’t use that as an excuse to not think about your problems.”

“If you’re already stressed out and you get sick, you’ll be even more miserable,” Elam warned. “Keep your immune system in top shape. Wash your hands. I know it sounds strange, but it’ll pay off in the long run.”

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