From Holiday Stressed to Holiday Best

By Valerie Tunks

The Thanksgiving turkey hasn’t even been carved and Jingle Bells is already playing.  It seems each year the holidays creep up more quickly, making the holiday stress many of us feel start earlier as well. A 2008 holiday stress poll by the American Psychological Association showed that more than eight out of 10 Americans anticipate stress during the during the holiday season.

What could be a season of joy marked by celebrations, delicious food and spending time with loved ones is often the start of a season dreading crowded malls, feeling anxious about spending time with certain relatives and being worried about finding the perfect gift.  If visions of sugar plums dancing in your head have you tossing and turning at night instead of giving you a child-like excitement for the holidays, here are some helpful tips to make the holiday season less stressful and more enjoyable.  Perhaps next time you hear Jingle Bells you’ll sing along instead of feeling holiday anxiety.

1. Lower Your Expectations. Take some of the pressure off by remembering that there is no such thing as perfect.  A burnt Turkey or broken strand of lights won’t ruin your holiday.  Don’t romanticize the holidays or try to recreate holidays from years past – focus on making new memories instead.

2. Make a list (and check it twice). Write everything down that needs to get done.  Break larger tasks down into smaller items so it isn’t so overwhelming.  Once the list is complete, give yourself deadlines to complete each task and put it on your calendar.  After you accomplish a task, check it off your list.  You’ll be amazed at how great it feels to check things off! 

3. Minimize interactions with unhealthy people. Don’t feel as if you have to accept every invitation and invite every friend, family member or co-worker to holiday events you are planning. There is nothing wrong 
with minimizing or eliminating interactions with unhealthy or unhelpful people.

4. Breathing and Other Techniques. If spending time with certain relatives or co-workers makes your head want to spin like a dreidel, practice breathing.  Instead of losing your cool, take a few deep breaths and do your best to relax.  If controlled breathing does not work for you, there are a variety of other stress-reducing techniques that are helpful during the holidays. offers a list that includes conducting “social reconnaissance” before attending parties or gatherings, volunteering to manage loneliness and avoiding the use of alcohol for “liquid courage” to manage stress and anxiety.

5. Wrap gifts as you purchase them.  Instead of saving your wrapping for the night before, wrap your gifts when you get home from your shopping trips.  This will save you time and anxiety.

6. Enlist the help of friends and family.  Don’t take on an entire holiday meal by yourself; ask your guests to each bring a dish that makes it feel like Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanza to them.

7.  Start your shopping early in the season.  Not only does this spread out the cost of your gifts, but it keeps you from scrambling for purchases at the last minute.  No need to fight the crowds or worry about shipping deadlines.

8. Make some time for you.  Set some time aside to relax.  Consider this your gift to yourself!
Valerie Tunks is a nationally certified counselor and life coach at Goose Creek Coaching. Valerie can be reached through the Goose Creek Coaching contact page.

SAD and Blue: Ward off Winter Depression

By Valerie Tunks
If short days and cold weather have you feeling down, you’re not alone.  According to, the “winter blues” or clinically speaking, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), affects up to 5% of the population.  Feelings of fatigue, sadness, increased food cravings and irritability are common symptoms and may be a sign that you are suffering from winter depression.  If heading to Aruba for the winter isn’t an option, you may want to try some of these suggestions until it’s time to spring forward.

 A study by Duke University found exercise to be a more effective treatment for depression than  anti-depressants, with fewer relapses and a higher recovery rate.  So, get out and exercise.  Whether it’s a walk, jog or zumba class, exercise can help keep the blues at bay.  Not only is it good for your mood, it’s good for your body as well.

Shine Some Light
According to, light boxes can provide relief for SAD sufferers by using them once a day for thirty minutes.  Light boxes emit high intensities of light and produce similar effects to the sun's natural rays. Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood, easing SAD symptoms. The Mayo Clinic website offers some helpful tips on picking the right light therapy box for you.  If a light box isn’t covered by your insurance, try to get as much natural light as possible.  Go outside and get some sun or sit by a window with Southern exposure.

Catch some Z’s
Oversleeping and changes in sleep patterns can affect levels of melatonin, contributing to feelings of depression according to  Sticking to a regular sleep schedule and opening the blinds upon rising can help you feel better and provide added energy to help you get through the day.

Healthy Diet
If food cravings have you reaching for a bag of chips or candy bar, providing only a temporary energy boost, suggests reaching for a healthier snack like fruit.  While carbohydrate cravings may be intense, choose complex carbohydrates like whole grain pasta and rice which can keep you feeling fuller longer.  Eat at regular intervals and watch your energy increase.

Medication and Therapy
If you try these suggestions and aren’t feeling any relief, see your doctor who may prescribe medication or refer you to a therapist.  You may be suffering from a more severe case of winter depression or an underlying medical condition.    

Valerie Tunks is a nationally certified counselor and a life coach at Goose Creek Coaching. Valerie can be reached through the Goose Creek Coaching contact page.