Dealing with holiday stress

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jerry Novack
  • 96th Medical Group
It's that time of year again.  All things pumpkin spice become all things peppermint; television networks start showing nostalgic, holiday-themed movies; in Northwest Florida, we complain about cold weather while the rest of the country actually deals with winter; and I write the "holiday stress" mental health message. 

My challenge of course, is to write something of value not already heard or read ad nausea.  This can be a real challenge, considering the main stressors this time of year remain relatively constant. 

Finances - I should recommend creating a holiday budget and stick to it, spend time with loved ones instead of spending money on presents, and consider thrifty options when gift shopping.  If you do these things effectively, then you should be writing me advice - not the other way around. 

No matter how well I plan and budget, I find myself blind-sided by unexpected expenses beyond gifts.  There are holiday cards, parties, meals out, entertainment events, and postage I consistently fail to consider.  Some strategies can help with damage control, though.  I maintain my year-round savings habits by setting up automatic, on-line funds transfers into retirement and savings accounts, limit (or eliminate) credit cards with high interest ratings.  I also create a "tighten the belt" plan for early January to help me recover from the holiday expenses.  If anyone needs help managing holiday spending, make an appointment with a financial advisor or go to the Airman & Family Readiness Center.

Family - I adore my family.  The more I miss them, the more I adore them.  Each year, I approach the holidays longing to reconnect with my siblings, parents, nieces and nephews.  By January 2, I cannot wait to get away from them again.  Time with family can be simultaneously wonderful and fulfilling and frustratingly stressful.  We can get overwhelmed if we forget to schedule in personal time or "little getaways" when visiting with family.  For me, an afternoon spent in the book store or at a local Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school can help me get some down time, remember that I really do love these people, and re-engage renewed and happy. 

Without scheduled breaks, I get irritable and relationships begin to rapidly deteriorate. Figure out what you need in order to manage family visits and protect it because it matters.

Sadness, worry and grief - For many people, the winter holidays and New Year's celebration carries meaning and/or memories that can conjure feelings of sadness, anxiety or grief.  I hesitate to call these "negative" emotions because in certain circumstances they can be not only appropriate, but helpful.  However, for some, these feelings can seem overwhelming, especially when juxtaposed with the happiness and cheer they see around them.

First, know that feeling down is perfectly normal from time to time.  Do not forget we are resilient, even when we do not necessarily feel that way.  Also, "time outs" are perfectly acceptable.  Just like with family visits, temporarily disengaging from holiday cheer can provide a much needed break and enable you to reconnect with renewed excitement and joy.

If feeling overwhelmed with holiday stress, or notice that a wingman does not seem to be coping well, reach out for help.  Talk to friends, family, chaplain or mental health providers.

Accompany the wingman to a helping professional, if she/he refuses to go alone.  If confused about the difference between Family Advocacy and Airman & Family Readiness, just go to ANY helping agency.  We will get you where you need to go.  The most important thing is just get the support you or your wingman need.  Be safe, take care of yourselves and each other, and never hesitate to call at 580-883-8374 if I can be of any help.  I wish you a wonderful holiday season.