ALIAMANU MILITARY RESERVATION, Hawaii - The holiday season is upon us, and for many, there is no better period to feel alive than during what entertainer Andy Williams once called "the most wonderful time of the year."

In truth, however, the holidays can also be quite problematic for some, and possibly even dangerous for others. Stress levels tend to peak during the fall and winter months as people struggle to cope with, among other things, impossibly long lines at stores, congested parking and driving conditions, and a host of family- or job-related parties, where attendees often imbibe one too many cocktails.

The challenge becomes even greater for those in the military, where stress levels are apt to rise among spouses and children missing a deployed family member.

"People love the holidays because there's a lot of fun to be had, but it can also be the most difficult time of the year for some because of the emotions that are involved," said John Ahokovi, a prevention education specialist with Army Community Service (ACS), and someone who often conducts stress-related courses, here, and at other installations around Oahu.

To help those possibly dealing with holiday-related stress, Ahokovi encourages them to first recognize the signs, which include physical, mental, emotional and behavioral changes to their bodies.

"When we're physically stressed, some of the symptoms include headaches and body aches," he explained. "We also may be feeling a bit worn down and tired."

Meanwhile, those experiencing mental fatigue will often exhibit poor judgment, react irrationally to advice, or simply do things out of character.

"These people will often seek to justify their actions," Ahokovi said, "and if not controlled, they may develop a negative attitude that begins to affect their relationship with others."

Stress-related victims also may ride what Ahokovi called "a range of emotions," a spectrum that has disastrous consequences at one of its ends.

"They'll be really sad one moment, and then the next moment, they'll be really mad," he explained. "They may even begin to entertain suicidal thoughts."

Finally, he noted that behaviorally-stressed people tend to become aggressive, and often plunge themselves deeper into alcohol and/or drug abuse. "They reach the point where they don't really care about anything or anyone anymore," Ahokovi explained.

To counter holiday stress, Ahokovi often encourages his students to first look for signs in others.

"We have what we call our 'check-in policy,'" he explained. "We encourage people to call their families and friends, just to check in with them, see how they're doing and ask if they need any help.

"Sometimes, you'll have young mothers with newborn children, and they need a hand," Ahokovi continued. "This policy does that for them, and maybe prevents a case of Shaken Baby Syndrome."

Ahokovi also encourages his students to limit their use of harmful substances, particularly alcohol, from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. "It's OK to say no when you're offered a drink at a party," he said.

He also supports the concept of eating right and developing consistent sleeping patterns.

Above all, Ahokovi added, "Find ways to have fun. And find the things that are positive in your life, and focus in on what they are. In other words, be grateful for the things that you do have."

For more information on upcoming stress-related classes, call ACS at 808-655-4227.

<b>Feeling a bit stressed over the holidays'</b>
Here are five tips, provided by the Canadian Mental Health Association, to help ease your worries.

1) Use relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and massage.
2) Exercise. Physical activity is one of the most effective stress remedies around.
3) Watch your diet. Alcohol, caffeine, sugar, fats and tobacco all put a strain on your body's ability to cope with stress. A diet with a balance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and foods high in protein but low in fat, will help create optimum health.
4) Help others. Volunteer work can be an effective and satisfying stress reducer.
5) Get away for a while. Read a book, watch a movie, play a game, listen to music, or go on vacation. Leave yourself some time that's just for you.

Page last updated Tue December 22nd, 2009 at 19:51