Holiday stress can be overcome: Family, societal demands can be mastered with a plan, priorities

It doesn’t matter how many years the Colbert family has been hosting Christmas in their State College home, it just never gets any easier — or roomier.

This year, the Colbert’s will have 49 people over for both Christmas Eve and Christmas festivities — nine of whom are staying with them.

“Try sharing one bathroom with nine people. It’s like a madhouse,” said Stacie Colbert. “If not space, then one thing we got is the love and comfort of each other. That can go a long way, but boy, oh boy, it is nuts.”

William Colbert Jr., Stacie’s husband, said their family would be coming in from other parts of central Pennsylvania as well as Illinois, Ohio and Pittsburgh this year.

But for those who aren’t sure how they’ll stay sane this holiday season, Dr. Laura Cousino Klein, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, said less could be more.

“We’re getting caught up in the consumer rush and trying to meet the demands of society to make Christmas special and we put pressure on ourselves to create memories,” Klein said. “Sometimes we see that it’s the end of the year, and work is wrapping up and the calendar year ends, and it’s a time where people look back on the year and realize they haven’t gotten done what they needed to.”

Studies show that stress is amplified during the holidays and said there are a few things people can do to “de-stress,” Klein said.

Come up with a plan, and then do what needs to be done before anything else, Klein said.

“What I think is that a lot of people are starting to overschedule themselves during the holidays,” she said. “Give yourself permission to be a little late doing something or that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and take the time to take care of yourself.”

Small things like eating right and getting enough rest can make a world of difference, Klein said. Those at the peak of their stress levels are adults with families and careers.

“Thanksgiving was late this year, so if people feel like they’ve lost time, they actually are losing a week,” Klein said. “Take care of yourself so you’re able to take care of others.”

Even a five-minute break can give an individual a second wind. Klein added to try and avoid avoid over-caffeinating yourself, eating fatty foods and losing sleep.

“Stressed people can really rise to the occasion and meet those demands, and after the stress is over and resources are depleted, make sure there is time for recovery,” she said.

For the Colberts who annually host family during the holidays, despite the much love between them, they end up needing a vacation after the Christmas get-together.

“It’s crazy, but then you look at the people you love and they kind of keep you sane during it all,” Stacie Colbert said. “Right after the New Year, we’ll actually be flying to south Florida for a little downtime. We call it our post-vacation vacation.”