Making the most of the holiday season

Given continued economic uncertainty, the holidays have the potential to create additional challenges this year. Families are cutting back, people are worrying about job security or unemployment, and seniors are concerned about their retirement. Such worries are stressful, and the American Psychological Association (APA)'s 2011 Stress in America survey found that 22 percent of Americans report an extreme level of stress.

If you are already experiencing stress in other areas of your life, you may be especially vulnerable to increased anxiety during the holidays. However, it is important to view the holidays as an opportunity to enhance your psychological well-being. Remember, there are conscious steps you can take to prevent holiday stress and ensure a worry-free season.

APA offers these tips to help handle holiday stress

  • Take time for yourself — There may be pressure to be everything to everyone. Remember that you’re only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Sometimes self-care is the best thing you can do — others will benefit when you’re stress- free. Go for a long walk, get a massage or take time out to listen to your favorite music or read a new book. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries — by slowing down you will actually have more energy to accomplish your goals.

  • Volunteer — Many charitable organizations are also suffering due to the economic downturn. Find a local charity, such as a soup kitchen or a shelter where you and your family can volunteer. Also, participating in a giving tree or an adopt-a-family program, and helping those who are living in true poverty may help you put your own economic struggles in perspective.

  • Have realistic expectations — No Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza or other holiday celebration is perfect. View inevitable missteps as opportunities to demonstrate flexibility and resilience. A lopsided tree or a burned brisket won’t ruin your holiday; rather, it will create a family memory. If your children’s wish list is outside your budget, talk to them about the family's finances this year and remind them that the holidays aren't about expensive gifts.

  • Remember what's important — The barrage of holiday advertising can make you forget what the holiday season is really about. When your holiday expense list is running longer than your monthly budget, scale back and remind yourself that what makes a great celebration is loved ones, not store-bought presents, elaborate decorations or gourmet food.

  • Seek support — Talk about your anxiety with your friends and family. Getting things out in the open can help you navigate your feelings and work toward a solution for your stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consider seeing a professional such as a psychologist to help you manage your holiday stress.

How a psychologist can help

If you continue to feel overwhelmed with stress, consult with a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional. He or she can help you identify problem areas and then develop an action plan for changing them.

Psychologists  are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies as to how to adjust your goals so that they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues.

Practicing psychologists use a variety of evidence-based treatments — most commonly psychotherapy — to help people improve their lives. Psychologists, who have doctoral degrees, receive one of the highest levels of education of any health care professional. On average, they spend seven years in education and training following their undergraduate degrees; moreover, psychologists are required to take continuing education to maintain their professional standing.

Learn more on talking to your children about the economy.