In recognition of the intense stress often accompanying the holidays, two Mississippi State University groups -- the President's Commission on the Status of Women and the President's Commission on the Status of Minorities -- sponsored a stress management seminar before the holiday season kicks off in earnest at Thanksgiving.
The recent "Food For Thought" luncheon featured Beth Frick, director of education for North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, who defined stress and talked about practical approaches to dealing with it.
"Self-fulfilling prophecy -- If you believe you're going to have a great holiday season, you're halfway there. If you believe that what you hear today can really help you out in stress management or life balance, you're halfway there. Believing does help make it so," she said.
Stress is the body's non-specific response to change, Frick said. Even the best holidays include some kind of change, so stress is the natural result. People resist change, so recognizing that stress results from change can be a good first step to coping.
"First, you've got to decide, does a threat really exist? Then, you've got to give it some priority: Is this a gold, a silver or a bronze kind of situation in your life?" she said.
The more serious the stressor, the more support a person will need to cope, Frick said.
"Stress-free holiday? In life balance and stress management, you've got to be realistic about your expectations -- I've got this many days to do this much stuff; what is the realistic expectation here? You'll need to look at past years to gauge that," Frick said.
Everyone in the family needs a break at some point, she said. People need down time to be able to re-energize and respond to stress appropriately. Creating a list and having a time-management plan in place also can help people deal with stress associated with the holidays.
"One of the most important gentlemen of the whole holiday doesn't just sit up there at the North Pole and -- willy-nilly -- think that the toys are going to make themselves. He makes a list and checks it twice, and we need to as well," Frick said.
Overall, one of the best ways to deal with the pressures and stress of the holiday season is to take care of oneself, both physically and financially, she said.
"Maintain your health. It's fine to have special treats, but just don't throw everything out of the window. I don't mean you have to be an exercise nut, but incorporate at least short elements of exercise. One thing that suffers most is sleep. Give yourself at least the minimum requirement of sleep that you need," Frick said.
Sticking to a budget is also important to lessening stress, she said: Spending more money doesn't make a happier holiday; instead, people who are focused on the holiday experience, including spending time with family and friends, have happier holidays.
"I hope to leave you with the optimism to look for what's right, what you can celebrate, what you can really enjoy more of that helps balance out some of those bumps in this thing we call life," Frick said. "Stay focused on the necessary changes. Take small steps. Stay flexible. Partner with someone for success.
"If you do these things, you're not only going to have a great holiday season, you'll have a great 2013 and beyond."