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A holiday gift of stress is not worth giving

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

The Christmas carols, festive decorating and talk of good cheer are all images most of us have this time of year. However, being in the counseling field I have found this can be a stressful, depressing time of year for thousands of families.

The holidays present the perfect storm for those who struggle with depression and anxiety. The shorter days, parties, planning more family time, expense, and traveling all become reasons couples with stress and depression in their lives normally, want to hide out until it's all over.

A recent poll cited by an editor from CNBC reported that 45 percent of people surveyed said they would rather skip Christmas. The main reason they stated was the fear of debt and additional stress they would find themselves in after Christmas. They rated their stress as high or extremely high in the survey.

In counseling couples, I have realized that one of the healthiest ways to manage stress is to prepare for it. Some people who have a high level of stress and depression forget that they can take an active role in reducing it way before it becomes overwhelming and unmanageable. For example, if your in-laws cause you stress and you know the exact date they are coming, schedule "short getaways" during their stay. Scheduling time in the gym or mini breaks with your friends prior to the in-laws knocking on your door helps prevent stress and helps you stay more upbeat during their visit. Below are ten suggestions for couples that can help manage your stress during this stressful time of the year.

1. Stress, anxiety and depression all dissipate with exercise. It doesn't take much either. A mere 10-minute walk can change your perspective and make you feel more in control of your stress. A scheduled walk every night with your partner is also a healthy habit for keeping your relationship close.

2. Have built into your week social hours. Happy hours usually mean alcohol, but social hours can be anything; a yoga class or a get together with friends after work. Connecting with others helps you see the big picture and you become more objective. All of a sudden a big deal no longer feels as big as it may have on your own.

3. No matter who comes to the house over the holidays or how long they stay, make sure your marriage stays united. Keep the planned date night and go. This is your night out with your spouse. Escaping the extra dishes, chores and chatter helps keep you and your partner working for the same team.

4. Get a massage. Touch calms people, and it is a form of self care. When you are caring for others over the holidays, it becomes more important to care for yourself as well. Sneaking out during the day or in the early evening for a massage changes your mood and makes you feel good that you are caring for you.

5. As much as possible, keep your same schedule. There is no easier way to become sleep deprived than to begin going to bed much later and yet trying to get up early to prepare breakfast and partake in other festivities.

6. Drink more water. Many of the holiday foods are high in sugar and fat. This may cause you to feel sluggish and lethargic. Drinking more water can help you feel full and will make resisting those yummy desserts less difficult.

7. Set a budget for Christmas gifts prior to purchasing your first gift. Do not go over the budget. If that means taking people off your list, do so and consider making cookies or giving them gifts of time in the New Year. A favorite gift is a coupon that promises lunch on a Saturday after the holidays. You will have more time, be less stressed, and able to appreciate your loved one a bit more.

8. Attending too many parties is exhausting. Limiting your parties helps you enjoy the ones you do attend. If the office party stresses you out, then consider not going. The biggest part of managing your depression and stress is prioritizing self care. Begin by avoiding the parties and people who seem to affect you negatively.

9. Make sure you visit your physician if your stress, depression or anxiety has been present for more than two weeks and affects your ability to function. There are illnesses besides depression that cause anxiety, stress and depression. A physician will be able to offer helpful medical advice and medications when necessary.

10. If you need counseling to manage your stress but have limited funds, you can use a website called COPE www.copewithlife.com, which allows people to incorporate traditional psychotherapy as a self-help tool to gain control over their life. They are available 24 hours a day and are completely free.

The holidays are a frenzied, frantic time of the year, but they are also full of joy and wonderful memories. Feeling stress and depression during this time of year due to financial, family or relationship burdens is common, but preventable. Planning together as a couple prior to the season's first Christmas carol is your best assurance that you will remember this holiday as one of your best! Prioritizing you, your partner and your relationship is truly the best gift you can give yourself.

– Mary Jo Rapini

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