Stress likely to increase during holidays


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Deep breathing, positive visualization, and even a clip from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation can all serve as examples on how to enjoy this year's holiday season.

Around 35 people attended the "Say Goodbye to Scrooge: Don't Let The Holidays Get The Best of You" seminar at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Thursday evening in hopes of learning some helpful hints to cope with stress.

Coralville resident Linda Westphal said she attended the seminar because she has issues with stress in her every day life.

"I think the more reinforcement you get, the more it helps you to be successful," she said.

Westphal, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, said she is particularly stressed this year because her family will celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas on the same day.

"The general population definitely shows an increase in stress around the holidays," said Abbey Hardy-Fairbanks, a UI clinical associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology. "Mostly, it's thought that women struggle with stress more around the holidays because they have extra work created by the double shift of work and home responsibilities."

Hardy-Fairbanks, who spoke at the event, said women are stressed about having enough time away from work to get holiday-related things done.

"It's more difficult for women to permit themselves to relax than men," she said.

Hardy-Fairbanks said women take on the responsibilities of cooking, decorating, buying gifts, and making plans during the holidays, which adds to their stress level.

College students are also likely to feel stress during this time of year.

"Many students are on their own financially, and the holidays can sort of be a letdown because you're no longer the little kid who gets to have all the excitement," said Nancee Blum, a social-work specialist in the UI psychiatry department. "Sometimes, it's hard as you're starting to have both feet in the grown-up world."

Blum said UI students should take the time to exercise, eat nutritious foods, and get enough sleep to reduce stress during the holidays and finals week.

Stacey Pawlak, a UI clinical psychologist, said the combination of the holidays and stress related to finals, papers, and travel towards the end of the semester contribute to high stress levels in students.

"Stress, a lot of times, leads to anxiety and/or depression," said Pawlak, who also spoke at the seminar.

People have a certain idea of what a happy holiday is supposed to be like, she said, and that can lead to lots of stress.

"Certainly, the demands of the holidays can contribute to feelings of tension and cause stress, and sometimes people experience a post-holiday letdown," said Stephen Vetzner, the senior director of media relations at Mental Health America.

The group suggests people keep expectations for the season feasible and to not focus on only one holiday, such as Thanksgiving Day.

Not everyone is feeling stressed during this time of year, however.

"I like this time of year," said UI freshman Will Fox. "I'm usually less stressed. It's a good break from the daily schedule, and you get to see your family, and it's a lot of fun."

Fox, who will return home to Clinton over Thanksgiving break, said he only feels a little bit of stress because of final exams.

Joan Folkmann said she does not necessarily believe the holidays to be any more stressful than the rest of the year, but she decided to attend the seminar because she "could use a little education on how to cope with stress."

She said she tries to exercise and not to overcommit during the holiday season.

After the seminar, Folkmann said, she got some helpful tips and especially liked the advice about progressive muscle relaxation.

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