(Editor’s note: Dankoski discussed ways to optimize emotional health during the holiday season at the "Crossing Michigan Street – Information for Your Good Health" workshop at noon, Tuesday, Dec. 7, at the IPUI University Library. "Crossing Michigan" is hosted by the IUPUI Office for Women, the IU National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health and IUPUI Human Resources Work/Life Program.)
As the year ends and holiday excitement increases, so does stress, according to Mary Dankoski, an IU School of Medicine faculty member and a marriage and family therapist. Although it’s impossible to totally eliminate holiday stress, she advises ways to reduce stress and to make the holidays more enjoyable:
• Examine your expectations for the season. If a perfect holiday is a 10, scale back your expectations to an eight or even a seven. Refrain from trying to achieve a story-book season, keep your sense of humor, and take a realistic approach to the holidays.
• Go into the holiday season with a sense of what’s important to you as a parent or a family. Determine what your budget will allow and if necessary, convey that information to your children so their expectations are realistic. "Don’t get sucked into the culture of consumerism," she cautions.
• People tend to keep traditions going that long ago stopped being fun. Discuss modifying or eliminating traditions that no longer have meaning and perhaps starting new ones which focus on family connectedness and sharing.
• Be aware of old family patterns. Reflect on our roles within the family and recognize that we have a choice in family dynamics. While we can’t change how others act, we can change how we react.
• If we see aging parents once a year, that visit carries heavy emotional baggage for both parents and adult children. The two generations should try to connect on an adult-to-adult level. The parents need to come to terms with the fact that their children are no longer children and the children should try to resist the impulse to treat their parents like children. The goal is to connect as peers.
• Exercising, eating as well as you can in spite of all that wonderful holiday fare, and keeping up with your sleep should be the first thing you do when under stress. Don’t neglect your own needs.
• Focus on whatever the holiday means to you and your family.
Dankoski is assistant professor of clinical family medicine and president-elect of the Indiana Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.