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Montefiore in the News

December 15, 2008

New York City, NY (December 15, 2008) -- It's the holiday season, when many of us find ourselves dashing from party to party, fighting mall crowds and trying to plan "perfect" family get togethers. Add to all that the other things on our to-do lists, such as finishing year-end tasks at work and balancing family schedules, and it's no wonder many of us succumb to the pressure.

If the words holiday and stress have become becoming permanently linked in your mind, it may be time to step back and re-consider how you approach the events and traditions that define the season for you. Katherine L. Muller, Psy.D., clinical psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center, offers the following tips to help you manage holiday stress and savor thisjoyful time of the year:

Don't Lose Your Routine: All of the holiday hustle and bustle can force our regular routines to the back burner. The problem: Our regular routines, like working out, meeting up with a book club, or even our 9-5 workday, keep us grounded and we need that more than ever during the hectic holidays. Fit holiday planning and prep in AROUND your regular schedule so that you can keep up the activities that make you feel stable and centered.

Be "Mindful": All of us have become skilled multi-taskers, and we lean on this even more during the holidays. We write out our holiday cards while the cookies are baking and the TV is on. This can lead to stimulus overload and, some report, becoming worn out and tired. Learning to focus on only one task at a time can help us feel more balanced. Recent research suggests that "mindfulness", being in the moment and engaging fully in an activity, may also impart a sense of relaxation. We can train ourselves to be mindful of anything we are doing. Here's one example: The next time you have a cup of hot cocoa, focus fully on the experience of feeling the heat of the mug in your hands, the smell of the chocolate, and the taste and texture as you drink it.

Use the Environment: Holidays mean togetherness, and sometimes too much togetherness results in conflict. Behavioral therapists know that environment can "shape" behavior -- this knowledge can be helpful in planning for get-togethers during the holidays.  For example, try going out for a brunch or lunch if your family members tend to fall into old habits of picking on each other or raising their voices at the home dinner table.  Being in a public place discourages loud voices, limits alcohol intake, and discourages "bad" behavior.

Set Some Boundaries: During the holidays, we can feel overwhelmed by busy schedules of visiting, shopping, and hosting.We may even feel as if our schedule is in charge of us, rather than the other way around. It is important to remember that we can set boundaries during the holidays that can help us find balance.  When invited to multiple parties, prioritize which ones to attend and send regrets to the others. If you are hosting a get-together, add an ENDING time to the invitation. This way, guests know that it is not an all-nighter. Back up the boundaries you've set through your behaviors -- an hour before the party ending time, serve coffee, tea, and hot cocoa and stop serving alcohol. This signals to guests that the party is winding down.