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Don't let stress get you in a bind
Are your expectations for the holidays reasonable, or just a source of stress

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Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 12/16/2007

by Tierney McAfee

The most wonderful time of the year can also be the most stressful. If you have a case of the George Bailey blues, you're not alone. The quest for the perfect Hallmark holiday can turn even the sanest people's hair whiter than Santa's whiskers.

Spotsylvania resident Pat Paquette knows about the pressure to meet steep holiday standards. In addition to being a professional flute player in a quartet and the Fredericksburg Community Concert Band, and running a fundraising gift-wrap booth for her daughter's high school marching band, Paquette has five children to shop for and a holiday to plan.

"It's crazy. There's never enough time and people are expecting a boatload from me," she said.

Paquette says she reduces stress by talking.

"I cry a lot. I have to be able to call my girlfriends and say 'Ahh!'" she said.

While stress is a normal part of life, it becomes draining when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation in between. The go-go-go pace of the holidays can create such a situation.

In response, stress-related tension builds, potentially causing problems such as headaches, high blood pressure and heart problems, as well as depression and anxiety.

Debra McPhee, a therapist at the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board, says her patients tend to be more anxious during the holiday season. She attributes the excess stress to four factors: budget worries, excessiveness in food and alcohol consumption, relationships and high holiday expectations.

"We find that a lot of people come in and list all these things they have to do or things they didn't do," McPhee said. "We need to look at that list and say, 'Whose standards are these?'"

The holidays become less hectic when people set attainable goals, McPhee said.

"There are all these high expectations of having that perfect white Christmas," she said. "People say, 'My mother used to do it this way,' or 'My next-door neighbor does this better.' But it's almost impossible to reach those standards. They're not reasonable goals."

set some limits

Spotsylvania resident and mother of three Karen Lovas says shopping is her biggest stressor.


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