Story and photos by Susan Mikula Campbell
Everything from Christmas shopping to family fights can cause additional stress at this time of year, and that can be really detrimental to your health, according to Dr. Robin Spence of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.
Spence was the guest speaker last week at the medical center's regular health talks, held at the Crestwood senior living apartments in Wheatfield, but open to the public.
Be realistic about holiday plans and realize that getting support from other people can help keep depression away, Spence advised.
Things that are more stressful than ever during the holidays include relationships ("Families do have misunderstandings ... that get worse over the holidays because we're trying to do too much."), facing the holidays without a loved one, finances (especially in the current economy) and physical demands ("Burning the candle at both ends can make you ill."), Spence said.
She offered 10 tips to beat holiday stress.
•Acknowledge how you feel. "It's OK to cry. You can't force yourself to be happy."
•Reach out. Volunteering is a good way to lift your spirits by helping other people.
•Be realistic. "Holidays don't have to be perfect," Spence said. "I personally do not want to cook a turkey any more. ... If you love to cook, I'll be over to your house at Christmas time."
•Set aside differences. Try to get along with everyone, and understand that other people are under a lot of stress, too.
•Stick to your budget. It's the thought that counts.
•Plan ahead. Set aside time for shopping, baking, visiting. "Just relax, don't wear yourself out."
•Learn to say no. It's OK to look out for yourself; otherwise, you'll feel resentful and overwhelmed.
•Don't abandon healthy habits. Have a healthy snack before parties, watch what you eat, get plenty of sleep and continue to exercise.
•Take a breather. Do something you enjoy, advises Spence, who loves old movies and enjoys watching "It's A Wonderful Life" at this time of year.
•Don't be afraid to seek professional help if you just don't feel like doing the things you usually do.
Spence said stress affects people at any age, from teenagers trying to fit in to the "sandwich generation" dealing with both kids and aging parents, to seniors giving up their longtime homes and living on a limited income.
Some of the seniors present for her talk, however, had holiday stress already under control.
Crestwood resident Clothilde Dooley, formerly of Lewiston, said she was now just enjoying the holidays -- "I think my stress is over because, I've purchased all my gifts."
Wheatfield resident Jennis Pankow, 85, noted that a lot of women in her generation are stuck at home and going crazy because of it. She keeps busy with various organizations and volunteering.
"I just get in my car and go. ... Sometimes I have to leave a few things go at home, but that's all right," she said.
Crestwood resident Jean Rack said she doesn't cook any more, only sent out eight Christmas cards, and as for gifts, "I write checks."
"I think at 90 years old you get smarter," she concluded.