Manage stress over holidays

Finding ways to work through stress rather than ignore it is key

— To take on the causes of family stress during the holidays, Kristen Race takes a step back and looks at the brain.

“It only takes a little bit of knowledge about how the brain functions to understand our behavior and our children’s behavior,” Race said during the introduction to a Dec. 10 seminar about how to handle family stress through the holiday season.

About 30 parents attended the pre-holiday event, which offered child care, pizza and strategies for slowing down a hectic atmosphere and managing stress.

Race has a doctorate in family, child and school psychology from the University of Denver; teaches Partners in Parenting classes through First Impressions of Routt County; and recently launched Smart Dreamzzz, a line of products to help children stay relaxed and happy at bedtime.

Small stresses built up throughout time can produce a “fight or flight” instinct in parents that rubs off on children, Race said. The key to fighting that instinct is to manage the holiday season in a way that keeps it from being activated, she said.

“We need to figure out healthy ways to manage our stress rather than just push through it because there is definitely long-term damage that can be done if we don’t have healthy ways to manage it,” Race said.

Many elements play into potentially stressful holiday situations, she said. A heightened expectation of what the holiday should be can crumble and create anxiety, she said. Obstacles to that expectation include family tension, a long to-do list, work, lack of exercise, financial concerns, poor diet, lack of sleep and trying to make everyone else happy.

“We have this expectation, this vision of what the holiday is going to be, and as we know, there is a lot of stuff that can get in the way,” Race said.

Kristy Fox, co-owner of Freshies Restaurant and mother of three daughters, said she decided to attend the workshop to be able to pass healthy holiday tips on to her children. Fox said she hoped to learn enough at the workshop to make a holiday atmosphere that would “create a sense of warmth and comfort and family and not necessarily all the chaos of Christmas Day by any means.”

It’s important to keep stress moderate to stay resilient through the holidays or during any busy time, Race said.

“As long as stress is moderate, it’s not bad for us. In many ways it makes us more resilient, but it’s how we manage it that becomes a problem and how we react to it,” she said.

Children notice reactions such as taking out stress on others, drinking or sleeping more than normal, she said. Healthy reactions to stress include breathing deeply from the stomach, exercising and meditation techniques such as yoga, she said.

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