Avoid stress during holiday celebrations

The COVID-19 pandemic made for some "hard candy Christmases." Still sweet, Christmas in confinement was nevertheless hard and disappointing.
Christmas 2022 will likely be one of adjustment as families try to restore traditions after several years of disrupted celebrations, says Jeremiah Terrell, University of Missouri Extension human development specialist.
Holidays bring about stress, even in non-pandemic years. Concerns about finances, travel, food, gatherings and family dynamics heighten emotions, so don't expect everything to go smoothly this year, Terrell says. Some traditions will fall to the wayside, but this creates an opportunity to create new ones.
Terrell says his extended family changed traditions in the COVID era. They now celebrate Christmas in July, when schedules are less busy, air travel is less expensive, daylight hours are longer and weather is more favorable. Immediate family members still gather during the traditional holiday season.
When things get too stressful during the holidays, step back and take a breath, says Terrell. If things become too much to handle on your own, give yourself the gift of seeking professional help.
Terrell outlines four steps to getting back in the groove of celebrating:
1. Prioritize. Ask yourself what matters most to you. List times, dates and locations of events that family members want to attend. To avoid impulse buying, make lists when shopping for gifts and food, keeping your budget in mind.
2. Plan. After prioritizing, plan what gatherings you will attend. "You'll have a much better chance of getting to do what you want to do and not get derailed," says Terrell. Communicate plans to each member of the family. Address any expected health practices in other people's homes.
3. Contingency. To avoid unnecessary stress, keep your plan simple and expect changes. Be prepared to adapt.
4. Create. Create new traditions and rituals. Be thankful and enjoy the changes, says Terrell.
Terrell is part of MU Extension's efforts to improve mental health for rural Missourians through the North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. If you feel stressed during or after the holidays, reach out to friends, family and MU Extension services. Some available services:
- The MU Psychological Services Clinic offers up to five free teletherapy sessions for farmers and ranchers and members of their immediate families. Learn more at muext.us/PSCFarmRanch, or contact the clinic at adpsc@missouri.edu or 573-882-4677. MU Extension and the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network provide this service through two grants from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
- The Missouri Department of Agriculture's new AgriStress Helpline also offers free, confidential help to farmers and their families. Producers can call or text 833-897-2474 to speak to a health care professional. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Learn more at agriculture.mo.gov/stress.php. NIFA awarded the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network grant to MDA to support distribution of mental health resources and training through MU Extension.
- Iowa Concern provides stress counselors, an attorney for legal education, information and referral services for farm families. The toll-free number is 800-447-1985. MU Extension is part of Iowa Concern through a federal North Central Farm and Ranch Assistance Network grant.
- The 24-hour 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides free, confidential services. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text 988, or go to 988lifeline.org.
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