Capt. Julie Englert, Psy.D., and Capt. Ciro Visone, Psy.D.
Outpatient Behavioral Health
Eisenhower Army Medical Center

"It was the best of times it was the worst of times…"
-- Charles Dickens

While many of us look forward to the holiday season with excitement, it is important to remember the holidays also tend to be a period of increased stress.

A Mayo Clinic survey identified money, work and family responsibilities/personal relationships as the most stressful aspects of the holiday season. Hectic holiday preparations, travel delays, conflict with family members and expectations to plan or host gatherings add to the mix.

Less well-known but equally common stressors include the pressure to seem happy in front of family or friends, the emotional fatigue of catching up with everyone and the physical fatigue from packing in so many activities. Balancing numerous social obligations can sometimes feel like performing mental gymnastics, and of course workplace responsibilities are compressed into the time right before and after a holiday.

Surprisingly, although 9 in 10 Americans believe stress can worsen individual health, Harvard Health reported only a quarter of respondents are able to identify positive coping mechanisms. The result is an astounding 53 percent of all health issues are reported as being directly or indirectly related to stress. More than half of all Americans report deteriorating health related to anxiety, depression, addiction, sleep disorders, hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, cardiovascular disease, obesity, gastrointestinal illnesses and even Alzheimer's disease.

So what can we do? Expectation management and planning is key.

We hype up the holidays as a period to relax, to the point of losing sight of how busy it will be. The disappointment from this failed expectation can sometimes be the most stressful of all. An honest appraisal of your holiday plans can help set realistic expectations for when stress is likely, give a chance to schedule time to relax, and a find way to plan for financial burdens in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises.

You may need to turn down an invitation or two to give yourself a quiet evening to decompress. Set boundaries at work that you will not be responding to messages until you return. Identify potential "hotspots" in advance and plan for what you can do afterward to de-stress.

Accept that even the best laid plans will go awry, and focus your energy on what you
can control. Download the Virtual Hope Box from your app store. It is full of great mindfulness exercises to use when taking a break.

Remember, the holiday season is a time of both joy and celebration, and being mindful of how to better manage stressors allows each of us to enjoy all the best the holidays bring.