Don't stress seeking holiday perfection: experts

  1. Updated Sat. Dec. 22 2007 10:49 AM ET News Staff
    The holidays are supposed to be a time for good friends, family, and big gatherings. But for many people they can also be a period of added stress.
    In many homes, kids run loose, the alcohol flows freely, and family conversations can become tumultuous. Such settings may contribute to what Dr. Katy Kamkar calls stressors that can turn a jubilant time of year into a dreary experience.
    Kamkar -- a therapist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health -- told that seasonal stressors include social gatherings, company parties, and family get-togethers. All of these can lead to situations of increased anxiety, even though many of the events are supposed to be fun and social.
    Kamkar says that holiday gatherings can create situations where individuals have to spend extended periods of time with people with whom they may have strained relationships.
    In addition to the social anxiety, Kamkar says that many people feel the need to do everything perfectly as they plan their holidays. She said the hustle and bustle of the season leads people to worry about travel plans, the financial costs of presents, and preparing the perfect holiday dinner.
    The desire for perfectionism is one of the biggest stressors, according to Kamkar.
    "People need to remember that not everything needs to be perfect for everything to go well and for you to enjoy yourself," said Kamkar.
    Kamkar says it's not too difficult to find out if an individual has too much stress during the holiday season.
    Some of the symptoms or signs of stress at this time include:
    • Irritability
    • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
    • Fatigue
    • Feelings of sadness
    • Negative thinking
    • Headaches and muscle pains
    If someone believes they or someone they know may be depressed or overly stressed, Kamkar says it's important that people seek help.
    "Social support is very important," Kamkar said. "But don't be shy about seeing your doctor and talking about the situation."
    Kamkar said that whole families can be affected by the mood of a single individual.
    "If one person is stressed, this will have an impact on the others," she said. "This can compound the stress level for the entire family."
    Kamkar also noted that establishing a good budget is important, not just to relieve stress during the holiday season, but also afterwards when bills start coming in.
    She said often times, people don't keep track of their expenses or purchases and are overwhelmed once their credit card bills start piling up. Kamkar said that could lead to post-holiday stress.
    Travelling during the holidays can add to expenses, but it can also create more anxiety than normal. Kamkar says that people have a lot to juggle to make sure they make it to their destinations on time. Bad weather, transit delays, and overcrowded airports all can have an impact on travellers' emotional and mental well-being.
    Kamkar has some tips to help families and individuals cope with added holiday stress. She recommends:
    • Having effective time management strategies
    • Prioritizing activities
    • Tolerating unexpected events and uncertainty
    • Establishing realistic goals
    • Eating and drinking in moderation
    • Setting up a financial budget and sticking to it