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Getting back to healthy ways after holidays is important

Published on -2/11/2013, 9:42 AM

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This is the 10th in a series of articles about holiday stress.

Q: What are some coping skills for dealing with post-holiday stress?

A: Mental Health America conducted a telephone and Internet survey in 2006 of 3,040 persons 18 years and older. The survey found the respondents, rather than being relieved and less stressed after New Year's, were depressed, anxious or physically ill.

Psych Central online named several causes for post-holiday stress. Although alcohol was a factor, the greater stresses were unrealistic resolutions, unmet expectations, loneliness and guilt about holiday overindulgence. The letdown also happens because of the abrupt change from activities and expectations to lack of activities and nothing to look forward to. People need to include plans for the holiday aftermath as well as the holidays.

Ego Development's website offers many post-holiday tips. A preventive step that begins early in the holiday season is to limit alcohol intake. The prevention measures also include the previously mentioned healthy choices of good nutrition and regular exercise. Since finances top the list of most surveys as the leading stressor of holidays, over-spending tops the list of what not to do.

People need to recognize all of the above suggestions about how to minimize post-holiday stress depend on self-control. Eating too much, shopping too much and spending too much money all require self-restraint. The health habits of good nutrition, exercise and adequate rest require self-discipline, in the face of innumerable pressures to get things done.

What people can do after the holidays is to re-establish all the healthy choices they gave up during the holidays. These include moderation in food, alcohol, activity level and financial expenditures. Returning to a regular exercise regime promotes the release of endorphins and helps people lose weight.

Perhaps the most effective antidote for post-holiday stress is to plan something or a series of events to anticipate. Family members should all be involved in what to plan. Part of the family fun is the planning process itself, as everyone can look up ideas and options. The letdown from the bustle of holidays to the inactivity of post-holidays is pretty depressing.

Although many lists of suggestions for post-holidays are similar, Helium Inc. adds some that are different. This article recommends allowing oneself to feel sad and down and getting the negative feelings out of the way. The use of music to lift one's mood long has been recognized as an effective therapy. If people live in places where the sun shines, spending time in the sunshine is healthy. Even when temperatures are cool or cold, the sun often is warm.

Psychologist Dr. Deborah Serani makes suggestions for post-holiday depression. She emphasizes sleep, exercise and talking things out. Sleep deprivation alone causes depression, so sleeping well is a necessity to overcome depression.

According to Britain's Institute of Leadership and Management, in a survey of 2,500 managers, four out of 10 returned to work after holidays more anxious than they were before they left. The respondents also said it took them two days to feel relaxed from the strains of working when going on holiday leaves. Two-thirds of those surveyed also admitted they checked their smartphones or PDA devices at least daily while on leave.

On Management Issues Ltd. online, there are several strategies offered to remedy post-holiday problems returning to work. First, if taking a trip during a holiday, return home a day or two days before returning to work. Checking with coworkers to catch up on what happened when someone is gone might be helpful.

Mike Seddon recommends not jumping into difficult tasks up front upon returning to the office. Along with that tip, he advises not working late on the first day. Another suggestion is to prioritize e-mails: eliminate some, answer simpler ones, read the more complex ones later. Seddon is a founder of Kutchka, an organization that provides tools to help use Microsoft Office more efficiently.

According to Alex Chris, editor-in-chief of manageyourlife.com, 66 percent of workers surveyed reported intense stress returning to work after holidays. Surveys document half or more of the benefits of holidays were gone by the end of three days. After three weeks, all benefits from holidays were gone. The stress levels of 16 percent of workers returned to preholiday work stress levels after they returned to work.

Chris reiterates a list of work stressors. Concerns about money tops this list, the same top concern on all holiday lists -- before, during and after holidays. Another stressor is workload. Multitasking with tasks that have deadlines is a worry. Finally, disagreements with coworkers and supervisors is an ongoing work stress.

This expert also advises the same post-holiday stress strategies as others, but adds people need to spend time each day in the four main aspects of their lives. These are work, family, friends and favorite activities, and themselves.

* Next week's article will continue coping skills for post-holiday stress.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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