Tips for Retirees on Managing Stress During the Coming Winter Celebrations

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. – Etty Hillesum http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/05/holiday-stress-quotes-the-11-best_n_791925.html

snowman-1383597It used to be that the coming winter recess of seven or more days off from full-time public school music teaching mostly meant catching up on much-needed sleep, tackling a few of those deferred household chores, performing or conducting a couple holiday concerts, visiting family and friends, and “pigging out” at a few gigantic holiday feasts.

Now that we are retired, one could argue that “every day is a vacation” and our lives are always “a bed of roses.”

However, holiday stress is a real problem for full-time workers and pensioners alike. No matter the setting or stage of your life, it is something that needs to be addressed!

According to Alexandra Ossola (Popular Science) at http://www.popsci.com/why-are-families-particularly-stressful-during-holidays, “It may have more to do with your expectations than the annual meltdown over the turkey.” She comments, “For most people, colourful-festival-muffins-1317770family gatherings during the holidays are rarely stress-free… Sometimes these situations are small, unpleasant blips in otherwise enjoyable celebrations. But for some, the feelings go deeper—many people dread the holidays, becoming stressed or anxious in the weeks leading up to a family get-together.”

She concludes with research from Terri Orbuch, a relationship expert and sociology professor at Oakland University. “We think this should be a perfect time, the food will be perfect, and our conversations will be respectful. But when our realities don’t match that, we get frustrated,”

xmas-tree-1360371So, here is some timely advice to bring down your anxiety levels and cope with the changing season.

First up, the American Heart Association advocates being “heart-healthy” in all dealings with holiday stress at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/StressManagement/FightStressWithHealthyHabits/Holiday-Stress-Try-These-5-Tips-for-a-Heart-Healthy-Holiday-Season_UCM_433252_Article.jsp#.

  1. Think ahead and carefully outline a consistent “30 minutes of physical activity per day.”
  2. Avoid the perils of party foods (overeating of high-fat, sugary, or salty treats).
  3. Stay active… but not too active (enjoy the added exercise, but don’t overbook yourself).
  4. Layout a plan for January and beyond.

Several ideas for handling your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and/or New Year galas come from WebMD at http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/tc/quick-tips-reducing-holiday-stress-get-started.

  1. bag-1-1443662Know your spending limit (set a budget and stick to it).
  2. Retirement usually means being on a fixed income. Share gifts that are meaningful and personal, but not necessarily extravagant or expensive.
  3. Organize your appointments and to-do lists.
  4. Share the responsibility (you don’t have to do everything yourself).
  5. Learn to say “no!”
  6. Be realistic. “Try not to put pressure on yourself to create the perfect holiday for your family. Focus instead on the traditions that make holidays special for you.”

To avoid the predictable “serious conversation alert” or a downturn of the mood at any family gathering, Talya Stone urges the infusion of humor to lessen your holiday stress at http://stress.lovetoknow.com/Humor_for_Holiday_Stress.

  1. reindeer-1-1419910Tell jokes, like “Why do reindeer stop for coffee on their Christmas run? Because they’re Santa’s star bucks.” A whole collection of quick one-liners are available at her website, which she says are guaranteed to add humor to your holiday and de-stress awkward episodes.
  2. Avoid becoming Scrooge. Don’t take yourself so seriously! Laugh at your own foibles and boo-boos!
  3. Create happy memories and find laughter in every day
  4. Watch humorous movies of “side-splitting moments fueled by mistakes, failures, and blunders, allowing you to laugh in the face of any holiday stress.” Suggestions by Stone include A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, The Santa Clause, Jingle All the Way, Bad Santa, and my personal favorite Home Alone.
  5. Organize a harmless holiday prank to help diffuse some of the stress that comes with being so preoccupied during the holiday season. How many times can you gift-wrap a small present in progressively larger boxes? Stone gives other examples.
  6. Don’t forget to bring the games! Several inter-generational ideas for entertainment are Christmas Bingo, Pin the Nose on Rudolph, and Snowball Toss, but almost anything can increase the “festiveness” of every festivity.

christmas_hornIf your stress is made worse mostly due to the transition of a recent retirement, there are numerous resources to help you through this “significant life passage.” First of all, you should know it is not unusual to feel this way. In his book, The Retiring Mind, Dr. Robert P. Delamontagne estimates that “50% of retirees will suffer some form of acute emotional distress.” Now all we have to do is learn how to deal with this change… sounds easy?

Dr. Amit Sood, author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, writes “This a time of enormous change. You are leaving your job and friendships with colleagues and finding new things to do.” Sood recommends many christmas-stocking-1443217stress-reduction strategies: “Realize that your brain’s reward center likes variety, so give yourself a variety of experiences.”

He adds, “Let your best friends not be the TV, refrigerator or couch. Let your best friends be real people, books and sports shoes.”

“Treat your first year in retirement as if you are ‘interning’ to give yourself time to readjust and set new expectations,” he concludes. “Find meaning in new passions, including possibly using your work skills in a new job or volunteer work.”

For retired music teachers on this subject, I have written other blogs (see the link “Retirement Resources” at the right), and there are additional materials at the PMEA website: http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. Please explore these numerous links/books/articles.

Finally, always prolific, The Huffington Post offers a couple dozen articles on the subject of “Holiday Stress Management,” everything from financial advice to mediation to dealing with a difficult person at family visit or party. Go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/holiday-stress-management/.

DCF 1.0

From my family to yours – best wishes for the attainment of all of the “R’s” during the coming season – a refreshing, restful, reawakening, reviewing, recreating, reviving, rejuvenating, replenishing, and re-invigorating New Year!

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

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