Coping with Holiday Stress
Between entertaining guests, hosting parties, picking out the perfect present, cleaning, and baking; the holiday season can put a lot of added pressure on us. It’s easy to forget that these are days to savor and enjoy. Here to offer some tips to help cope with the stress that comes along with the holidays is Lovern Moseley, PhD. She is a Licensed Psychologist at Boston Medical Center and a Clinical Assistant Professor pf Psychiatry at BUSM.
Lovern Moseley, PhD
Lovern Moseley is a Licensed Psychologist at Boston Medical Center and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at BUSM.
Melanie Cole (Host): Between entertaining guests, hosting parties, picking out the perfect present, cleaning, baking, the holiday season puts so much pressure on all of us and it’s easy to forget the meaning of the season and that you're supposed to savor it and be with family and feel loved. My guest today is Dr. Lovern Mosely. She's a licensed psychologist at Boston Medical Center here to talk with us about helping with the stress that comes along with the holidays. Welcome to the show. Let’s start with the shopping because for some people, that starts in November, the money thing gets pretty scary and finding stuff for those hard to find people. What do you want us to know about shopping part? That’s the first hardest part.
Dr. Lovern Moseley, PhD (Guest): I think a lot of families need to really try and work on this even before we get to November, but I think after Halloween comes, everyone starts to get freaked out and they start to scramble, but if you try hard, even at the beginning of the year to put some money aside, that'll help to at least ease some of the burden of that sticker shock that we tend to feel when the kids are also asking for some very big-ticket items. For some families, if you have a list of possible gift items or you have your children put a wishlist together, you can plan better for them during that time so it doesn’t end up creating so much stress. The biggest thing is it’s more of a planning ahead.
Melanie: That's a good idea, to plan ahead, so that's your best tip is to start saving money for that holiday and then maybe even look at that list and set it in priorities of cost and want I suppose, and then come the holidays. There's deciding whose home to go to, whether it's at yours, and for young couples, in particular, they have that stress of driving. They go to one person's house and then the in-laws’’ house and maybe the sister’s house, so there's all that driving around. What do you tell people about putting their foot down or that stress?
Dr. Moseley: It also comes to being able to plan ahead and recognizing beforehand who do we have the biggest obligation to and being able to see if you can split the days, maybe go and see some families on Christmas Eve and then see others on Christmas Day. Even for the other traditions that are celebrated for other families, you want to make sure you plan, are we going to alternate the holidays, so for this family, the husband’s family we may go this year and then we’ll switch off for the other partner on the next year. You want to be clear about that in order to reduce stress so that it also doesn’t just catch you by surprise. These are conversations that also need to be had between partners during this time.
Melanie: People worry when they do have to travel and go to people’s homes and especially in this political climate about difficult family members with opposing views. What do you tell people about going to these family get-togethers and not talking about it? What do you do if somebody brings it up and gets in your face? What do you do?
Dr. Moseley: For those families, I think that everyone should stop and take stock of who they know their family members are and how they know they're going to respond and react in certain situations. A lot of us are already very aware of the family members who have the very strong political views. If a conversation comes up that you're not comfortable with, it doesn’t mean that you still have to engage in the conversation. You can say that I'm really not interested or ready to talk about this right now. You can exit yourself from the situation. There may be other family members there that you can speak with. You want to try to keep the time light and joyous, so you want to be able to have light conversation, but also keep in mind that there are some family members who have very strong opinions that you may not agree with. Again, you have the power and control to say that I'm not going to engage in this conversation right now. You also have the power to leave if things get to a point where you feel that it’s just too heated.
Melanie: Along with all of this comes hosting, cooking, baking, worrying about your weight, trying to get enough sleep and exercise. What do you tell people as your best advice for what you can do around the holidays to keep yourself in a good mental state and to take care of yourself so you can do all those other things?
Dr. Moseley: You want to make sure that you are getting enough sleep, that you're not adjusting your sleep too much that you're trying your best to stick to as close as maybe six to eight hours a night of sleep. The other thing is being able to prioritize. Keeping lists of the various responsibilities that you're going to have throughout the holidays whether it’s planning to host and you want to write everything down from cleaning to shopping to what's going to be on the menu, and you want to do that as far and advanced as you can so you make sure you have everything that you need and that things can go as smoothly as can possibly be expected. We always know Murphy’s Law – things can go wrong at various times, but the more things that you plan for and that you can control, you try to do that as best you can. In terms of other ways of taking care of yourself, it’s still important to make sure that you're exercising, that you're spending that time getting walks, enjoying the crisp air, if you're in a part of the country where the seasons change, but you also want to take the guilt out of it. This is a time where everyone indulges a little bit more, but you want to make sure that you're doing things in moderation. You're not necessarily filling up at that large plate 10 feet high, but probably also trying to have a smaller plate so that you can have a sample of everything on there so you feel that at least you're tasting everything and all the wonderful treats that you also spent time making and that other family members may have put together. Just have a smaller plate and that'll also help you keep things in moderation.
Melanie: What if it’s your first holiday without a loved one?
Dr. Moseley: That is also very difficult for a lot of families. Some families may try to be intentional about creating a tradition or some kind of remembrance around that person who was lost whether it’s lighting a candle in their memory or maybe creating that special recipe that grandma may have made or not. You want to still acknowledge that person is not there, it is a very stressful time and so a lot of people tend to withdraw because they're feeling that sadness of a lost loved one and you may find that people are trying not to participate, but still reach out to those who may feel less interested so that they don’t feel alone, but even for yourself, being able to acknowledge and make a decision as a family to say there's something special that we’re going to try to do to remember this particular loved one.
Melanie: What are some things that we can do, besides exercise, make sure we're getting sleep, understand that everything isn't going to always be perfect or work out as planned? What about things like gratitude, volunteering around the holidays to put things into perspective?
Dr. Moseley: I think that’s very important and I think that even with the recent tragedies that we’ve experienced with the hurricanes and such, taking time to think about others who have completely lost everything or families who lost everything including their homes and they're in temporary places right now, if there's a way that you're able to give whether it’s through something monetary or going to a shelter and providing food or small items of clothing for various families, it helps to warm the heart. It helps you to also feel better to be able to step outside of yourself and recognize that there are others who are so much less fortunate than you might be.
Melanie: Is there anything else you'd like to add with your best advice, most important information that would be relevant for managing, coping with that stress? What do you want people to do as this stress as the holidays starts to ramp up?
Dr. Moseley: I want everyone to breathe. Just take some time to step back. This is a time of year that rolls around every year, so taking stock of how things have gone in the past, making a plan to say how you want things to go differently this year and recognizing that you're only in control of yourself. You can't control what anyone else is doing and you just need to just step back. You may be feeling anxious or you may be feeling sad, but you can be in control of those feelings. Try to enjoy the season, try to go out and just enjoy nature, but focus more on the positives rather than on the things that could go wrong. We understand that this can be a stressful time and there's some of that stress that is healthy stress, but we want to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves, that we’re thinking about others and that we’re aware of what our triggers might be that might be difficult whether it’s the loss of a loved one or being the first tao host the events of the holidays. Be prepared, make sure that you're making your list, make sure that you're putting money aside and that you're not going outside of what you can afford. Those are the things that will help to make this a more enjoyable time.
Melanie: Thank you so much. It’s great advice, especially at this time of year. You're listening to Boston MedTalks with Boston Medical Center. For more information, you can go to bmc.org. That’s bmc.org. this is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.