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Easing holiday stress

Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)


Dec. 21--You've been racing through the usual holiday marathon -- staying up late to address cards and bake cookies and decorate the house -- and now, you're almost across the finish line.

Stop, take a deep breath, and give yourself time to focus on what's really important. This is the time to pencil in some "me" time for a walk, a yoga class or a soothing massage to de-stress.

Here are some suggestions from local therapists for getting through the last gasp of the holidays:

Barbara Schlumberger, a marriage and family therapist who practices in Santa Rosa, has one holiday mantra that fits all: Keep it simple.

"Limit the amount of people you are around," she said. "If you're visiting family, come for three hours instead of three days. Stay in a hotel instead of at the house, so you have time to get away."

It's especially important to keep it simple for kids, who can become quickly overwhelmed by too many gifts.

"And when they're opening gifts, pay attention," she said. "Let everyone appreciate it, and take their time."

If your kids are glued to their electronics, declare a screen-free window of time, she said. Then reconnect through a board game.

Robin Setchko, a Santa Rosa therapist who specializes in the parent-child connection, also recommends giving each child 3 to 5 minutes of your undivided attention each morning, to keep them grounded.

Just like kids, parents may need to take a "time out" when they get overtired. Setchko advises talking to your kids ahead of time, letting them know you may need to go for a walk on Christmas, but you'll be back. That way, they won't feel abandoned.

Schlumberger also advises limiting alcohol intake, especially if you are an introvert and become easily drained by cocktail parties.

"I have clients who go to a party and feel they have to interact with everybody," she said. "So they drink to overcome it."

Eoanna Passidakis of the Tranquility Zone in Santa Rosa specializes in a wide range of therapies for women, from hot stone massage and hypnotherapy to yoga.

While getting a massage can help dissipate stress, Passidakis said, you can prolong the relaxation by utilizing a few simple tricks.

First off, try to tackle one thing at a time, even though your to-do list seems to grow longer each minute.

"Stop before each little task, gather and collect yourself," she said. "Then visualize what you have to do, and do it."

She also advises deep breaths, from your belly up to your chest, with a long exhale: "Haaaahhhhhhhhhhh." That neutralizes the adrenalin pumping through your body, she said.

She keeps a spritzer bottle of lavender around for a little aromatherapy lift, and when all else fails, she goes outside for a walk to get re-energized.

Terry Trapp, a certified nutrition educator who practices at Songbird Healing Community Center in Cotati, likes to destress with a warm bath, essential oils, candles and a cup of chamomile tea.

Because holiday stress can burn away vitamins and minerals in your body, Trapp advises eating a healthy diet.

"People should be eating good quality proteins, whole grains, fresh vegetables, good fats like olive oil and flax seed oil," she said. "Try to reduce caffeine and drink green tea, which has a small amount of caffeine."

Joann Bostow of Cotati, a former grief counselor for the funeral industry, has watched many people struggle through the holidays.

"The death rate is a lot higher," she said. "It's the dark of winter, and people are not as healthy. ... They don't have the energy to keep going."

It's also difficult for people like herself, who are in their 60s and don't have any family members left.

"It's hard to engage with other families," she said. "They have their own core of memories and traditions, and you don't really fit in."

For the past 10 years, Bostow has spent Christmas alone. But she always creates a little care package for herself, adding fuzzy pajamas or earrings, a movie or a book, as the holiday approaches.

"On Christmas morning, I open my bag," she said. "The most important thing is ... to find a place of comfort within yourself."

It may also be helpful to make plans to get together with a friend for lunch or a movie in January.

"That way, Christmas doesn't get the whole spotlight," she said. "And you still have something to look foward to."

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-528 or


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