RIT Psychology Professor Shares Tips for Easing Holiday Stress

Tips include ways cynics can rekindle holiday spirit and eliminate the ‘Scrooge’ within

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Roger Harnish

For many people, the holiday season evokes images of gentle dustings of snow, door-to-door caroling and the aroma of sugar cookies baking in the oven. But for others, the holidays are routinely synonymous with pushy shoppers, financial strain and rehashing old family arguments.

Roger Harnish, professor of psychology in Rochester Institute of Technology’s College of Liberal Arts, believes that even die-hard cynics can rekindle the holiday spirit.

“For those people who find the holidays to be unnerving, I would suggest reverting back to positive or personal family traditions to help revive the spirit of the season,” Harnish says. “Positive traditions can stimulate memories and feelings associated with the holidays. Adjust your focus toward meaningful activities and away from the ‘have tos’ and ‘shoulds’ that are too often associated with stress and negative feelings. And if you don’t have a positive tradition, start one.”

According to Harnish, changes in routine, overcrowding, traffic delays, bad weather, overstimulation and indecisiveness when it comes to gift giving can all add to the stress of the season.

Harnish offers these tips to ease holiday stress:

Be accepting. This means giving up on the need to control the holidays. Understand that the holidays will change your routine, be more crowded, cause more delays, be too stimulating and require a lot more decision-making. These are the facts. Rather than trying to change these things, or trying to make them go away, recognize that they are part of what holidays are.

Be flexible. Humans have a great capacity to be flexible and adaptable. However, when we are stressed, or fearful or negative, we lose a lot of that flexibility. To reduce your stress, stay in touch with the parts of yourself that are creative and know how to improvise. When you feel that you are being

restricted or having your actions dictated, sometimes all that is needed is a simple switch in focus to the parts of the holidays that make you feel free.

Remain optimistic. Most human beings are more optimistic than not. Stress can eliminate this optimism. Holidays can frustrate our normal expectations of how long it takes to get things done. Learn to keep a positive focus. Tell yourself that things will likely work out. And tell yourself that even if things don’t work out, it is not the end of the world. Remember: it is the holiday season and people are more forgiving.

Be mindful of the meaning. Why are you celebrating the holidays? What do they mean to you? Stress can take away the positive meaning of the holidays and make everything seem negative. If you can focus on why you are grateful for the holidays, you will reduce your stress. Several times a day, remind yourself why you are grateful.

Have a broad perspective. Stress causes people to narrow their focus and this can lead to seeing minutiae and trivial matters as more important than the overall situation. If you keep your focus on the big picture—such as the joy that the holidays can bring—you will reduce your stress.