Handling Stress Through the Holidays and Beyond

Stress holidaysAt the Nov. 6 TSABAA bimonthly meeting, Diane Schoenert, training specialist with the Texas Workforce Commission, gave a presentation on coping with stress during the holidays and in everyday life.

According to Schoenert, “Stress is the wear and tear our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment.” The feelings generated by these physical and/or emotional effects are based on our perceptions. For example, Schoenert owns two horses. For her, cleaning the stables relieves her stress; others may find that chore stressful. Some people are exhilarated to give presentations; others are terrified by the prospect.

The causes of stress are many: moving, marriage or divorce, getting or losing a job, holidays or families. At work you can become stressed by the type of work, the management style, interpersonal relationships, your work environment or the commute.

Schoenert said the symptoms of stress can include:

  • Feelings: anxiety, fear, irritation, moodiness
  • Thoughts: low self-esteem, fear of failure, worry about the future
  • Behavior: crying for no reason, acting impulsively, increasing drug or alcohol use, losing appetite
  • Physiology: feeling tired, inability to get adequate sleep, headaches, neck or back pain

While we rarely encounter emergencies requiring physical effort, Schoenert said our biology remains prepared to go into survival mode, including the fight-or-flight syndrome.

The two main types of stress are acute and chronic.

Acute Stress

Stress definitionAcute stress is more common. It is short term and comes from the demands and pressure of the recent past or near future. Schoenert said, “Acute stress is thrilling and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting.” The most common symptoms of acute stress are:

  • Emotional distress
  • Muscular problems including tension headaches
  • Internal problems such as heartburn and acid stomach

Acute stress is highly treatable and manageable.>

Chronic Stress

Schoenert told the group, “Chronic stress is a long-term general response of the body to the same recurring stress.” She said chronic stress had three stages:

  • Alarm phase – the first reaction to stress
  • Resistance phase – we react, adapt and cope with stress as long as our resistance can take it
  • Exhaustion phase – resistance declines and burnout occurs

Schoenert said burnout happens when people who have previously been highly committed to a job lose all interest and motivation.

“Chronic stress is the grinding stress that wears people down day after day, year after year,” said Schoenert. It can destroy bodies, minds and lives. It is the stress caused by poverty, dysfunctional families, unhappy marriages, dead-end jobs or despair.

Chronic stress can be fatal as it can lead to heart attacks, strokes or suicide. The symptoms of chronic stress are difficult to treat and may require extended medical and/or behavioral treatment.

Managing Stress

Stress relaxSchoenert said the strategies for managing stress include:

  • Meditation
  • Self-hypnosis
  • Deep breathing
  • Reducing nicotine, alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Exercise
  • Eating healthy
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Avoiding conflict
  • Accepting things you cannot change
  • Taking a vacation
  • Making time for 3 Rs:
    • Rest
    • Recreation
    • Relationship time

Holiday Stress

>Schoenert said as the busy holiday season approaches, people become stressed as they attempt to maintain holiday traditions that can include decorating the home or cooking for large family gatherings. She advised:

  • Set your priorities
  • Plan your holiday activities
  • Have realistic expectations
  • Set boundaries and stick to them
  • Maintain your exercise routine
  • Re-evaluate family traditions (change or exclude those that cause stress)
  • Delegate holiday jobs
  • Take time for yourself

New Year’s Stress

Schoenert said that rather than make traditional New Year’s resolutions that are often not met, we instead consider simple changes in our lives that could provide a big impact:

  • Get more sleep
  • Rediscover a hobby
  • Clean your clutter
  • Invest in your social circle
  • Cultivate optimism
  • Plan for the future
  • Practice stress management

Schoenert ended with a quote from Danzae Pace:

Stress is the trash of modern life. We all generate it, but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.

For more information, see her presentation on the TSABAA website.

About the Author

Ann Fowler

Ann is a writer with the Comptroller’s Fiscal Management Division.

Ann Fowler can be contacted at: ann.fowler@cpa.texas.gov.