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San Clemente Journal

Handling the Holidays – Coping with the Stress Most of Us Feel

Aug 01, 2003 10:04PM ● By Don Kindred
by Joe Moore

      Dr. Robert Puff is a licensed Psychologist and a world-renowned expert on anger management. He is much sought after as a guest speaker and consultant who has done countless radio/TV interviews across the country. He moved to San Clemente six years ago and lives here with his wife, Kelly, and their two-year-old son, William. Dr. Puff spoke with us on helping cope with the stress that the holidays can, and often do, bring on. His authoritative book, Anger Work is a must read for anyone having trouble effectively dealing with anger. To learn more about this interesting San Clementean you can visit his website at
     SCJ: The holidays can be so stressful, what are some of the best ways to cope?
     DR. PUFF: You need to have intermittent breaks, schedule a dinner out, go for walks by yourself or with your spouse and plan something like a little trip immediately following the holidays.
     SCJ: When you have relatives around there are always conflicts, what is the best way to deal with them?
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     DR. PUFF: Let them know what’s going on, like where they’re going to sleep and what time you are going to eat. Make sure you let them know your routine. Stay in bed and relax, sleep in, run an errand to the grocery store or something by yourself. Set up mini-boundaries and again plan a vacation for when they leave. Allow some time to unwind from the stress, don’t just go back to work or school immediately.
     SCJ: How do you deal with strangers and the bustle and busyness of the holidays?
     DR. PUFF: [The holidays are] a heightened experience. Your emotions when you’re stressed are more intact. You need to have the mindset of ‘I need to slow down; I need to not get everything done or pick out the perfect present for everyone. I just need to do the best that I can.’ People get grumpy when they get in a hurry. Everything needs to be done by this time and this date, which is why everything is so stressful. Do your shopping throughout the whole year or at least over many days.
     SCJ: How do you fight the feeling of ‘everything must be perfect’ and still enjoy the holidays?
     DR. PUFF: Instead of getting four presents in four hours you change your mindset and say I’m not going to get everything done in those four hours, or I’m going to get something simpler like a gift certificate. Our expectation levels are set so high that we feel we must have the perfect everything, the perfect present, the perfect dinner. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Keep things to one or two not two or three.
     SCJ: A lot of depression happens over the holidays, why is that?
     DR. PUFF: You have such heightened emotions over the holidays. If you have estranged family members, you may not miss them or be concerned through much of the year but you are much more aware of that relationship and you’re going to think about them. So the holidays don’t make you more depressed they just heighten those feelings.
     SCJ: What are a few tips at avoiding depression during the holidays?
     DR. PUFF: What I do with my clients, [especially] the ones without family, I tell them ‘you need to have a plan and have something to look forward to.’ That way when they begin to get depressed they have something to do and participate in ways that are acceptable emotionally and psychologically. Like if you are not spending time this year with your kids, you should plan on spending it with another family and their kids, or setup a date after the holidays to celebrate with your kids outside of that. You need to be flexible. Also physical activity is an excellent anti-depressant and just as opposite a lot of sleep will increase your depression. With physical activity your body increases its natural endorphins, which helps decrease depression. Pay attention to your thoughts, depression is fed from your thoughts. Change your environment. If your current environs cause stress, go somewhere else.
     SCJ: What causes post-holiday depression and can you avoid it?
     DR. PUFF: The holidays are all about setting high expectations. If you set plans and they aren’t met, it can cause depression. It is like a form of PTSD - PostTraumatic Stress Disorder. When you’re in a stressful situation you deal with it at the time and then later as you reflect you become distressed or upset…you do need to reflect sometimes and that is healthy. You just can’t get stuck and go over it again and again. Accept the feeling [of not meeting expectations] and be able to adjust accordingly.
     Dr. Puff’s last suggestion for a healthy mental outlook at the holidays and beyond – read his book!