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Sarasota Monday, Dec. 24, 2018 1 year ago

Keeping the joy in the holidays

Tips from experts on how to avoid the stress of December and have fun.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

Happy holidays!

Does the phrase give you excitement or dread?

Psychiatrist Gina Tillman advises people to do what makes them happiest while in the midst of holiday travel.

For many people, it’s the latter. The holiday season tends to leave a bunch of stressors in your stocking — like time crunches, economic budgeting and extra responsibilities — instead of bringing joy like it is designed to do.  

“This a very stressful time for most people,” Lakewood Ranch psychologist Gina Tillman says. “It brings up memories of losses and different experiences people have.”

But the season can and should be fun, and there’s ways to help you enjoy yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Tillman suggests dealing with the pressure-filled season the same way she suggests dealing with any source of stress. Deep breathing exercises and mindfulness meditation are two ways to help you relax when things get too hectic.

She also recommends not procrastinating on tasks you know you have to get done, so multiple stresses don’t build on each other. Different exercises work better for different people, so Tillman suggests researching different methods and finding the best fit for you.

If things get too tough to handle on your own, Tillman says to reach out to a confidant and ask for support. Throw a wrapping party with your friends where you get all your feelings out and make it all a joy.

“Remember what the holidays are all about,” Tillman says. “They are not about doing tasks, but about the feelings of joy and happiness.”

If you remember that, Tillman says, you’ll get more out of them, and take those feelings into the new year.

To help you have a happy holiday, we look at areas that tend to give people heightened anxiety, and offer ways to combat those feelings.

Make travel fun

Ever been stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours on the way to your holiday destination, or sitting at an airport while your flight is continuously delayed?

These are some of the biggest anxiety-inducing situations out there during the holiday season. Luckily, psychologist Gina Tillman has suggestions to lighten your mental load.

“Listen to relaxing music,” Tillman says. “Write in a journal about the things you’re looking forward to doing on your trip. Take time to reflect. Just take advantage of the time. Say to yourself, ‘It’s (the travel) going to be stressful, so let’s make it worth my while.’”

Tillman’s main advice is to do whatever makes a person happiest while waiting.

That may include the things above, or things like drawing and writing poetry. If you can’t use your hands, like while driving, using all-nostril breathing or breathing through a straw are two potential options you can use to relax yourself, or a different breathing technique if you already have a favorite.

Connect with others

The best way to find joy in connecting with others this holiday season is to put yourself out there and not be afraid to try new things.

That's the advice of Wanda Jackson, an outpatient coordinator at Sarasota Memorial Health Care System.

“I deal with patients who aren’t going to get to celebrate Christmas the way they are use to,” Jackson said. “I tell them to try a new tradition.

“When something happens, people tend to isolate themselves. Do something simple. Have a potluck and a couple of neighbors over.”

The important thing, she said, is not to overthink any given situation.

“It’s the thought that counts,” she said.

Family and friends sometimes don’t understand, so it's a good idea to find a support group, Jackson said.

“If you have never gone to one, go, especially during the holidays,” she said. “They have all walked the same walk and understand.”

Joy of giving

University Park's Ildy Koppus recently bought a train set for her 2-year-old son, Elijah Toth.

The joy of giving, as most good gift givers know, comes from seeing the look on people's face after they open a gift is the best gift of all.

University Park's Ildy Koppus recently bought a train set for her 2-year-old son, Elijah Toth. Koppus said in the past, she's usually on the receiving end of the gifts, so this will be something to look forward to this Christmas.

"He is going to be so excited about the train. I bought it earlier, and I can't wait for him to unwrap it," said Koppus.

In an article written in Psychology Today by Allison Carmen, "when we can release our expectations and assist another person with the pure intention of just giving, it can be one of the most thrilling aspects of our lives, even when we hear or see no reaction or get nothing in return. "

The reason for the Christmas season is giving, after all. 

Remember yourself

Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in giving joy to others, but it’s important to still think about yourself.

Take some time to do something fun this holiday season, like checking out the indoor skating rink at The Mall at University Town Center and playing in the fake snow. This is just a hop, skip and a jump from the actual mall itself, which is could be visited after you finishing getting everything on your shopping list.

When ice skating and fake snow don't tickle your fancy, massages and pampering might do the trick.

Sarasota's Suzanne Mercer might not do anything special around the holidays, but she does get a massage once a month. When she's extra stressed, sometimes she gets them twice a month. It's a necessity, she said. 

Lisa Bucci, a Benderson Development Co. employee, says she takes time to herself during the busy season to walk around and take in the sights of the lights at the Mall at University Town Center.

"I walk around the mall as much as possible," said Bucci.

If walking doesn't do the trick to center yourself, think about a massage. According to the Mayo Clinic, massages can relieve "anxiety, headaches and insomnia related to stress."

If you find yourself having trouble sleeping because of stress caused by making sure that everything on the holiday list is perfect, don't forget to think about yourself.

OK to say no

There is no such thing as the picture-perfect holiday with the stress of getting everything done, so be realistic and keep sight of what really matters — family and friends, experts say.

Terry Cassidy

Check any guilt you may feel at the door and remember that “no” is not a four-letter word, the website says. Also, take some time out for yourself, even if it is 15 minutes.

"Setting boundaries is important," said Terry Cassidy, executive director of Bayside Center for Behavioral Health in Sarasota.

Take materialism out of the holiday by cutting spending by 10% this year and donating it to a family in need. Or, do something extra for your faith community.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, Cassidy said, ask for help and be direct. People can’t read minds. Ask for help, for example, if you don’t have enough time to decorate the tree.

And stay in touch with friends during the holidays, and reach out to friends you have not talked to in a while. It’s a great excuse to get back in touch.

Stay active

Your fitness routine doesn’t need to be interrupted just because the holidays are here.

So how do you stay active? Simple. Plan in advance and make health a priority, according to the website And if you’re spending the holidays in another city, view it as an opportunity to change up your routine.

For example, participate in a holiday-themed run like a Christmas 5K. These kinds of races can be found on  Also, walking, shopping or swimming are good substitutes for gym time, but be sure to skip the elevator and use the stairs.

If you’re not able to get out of the house because of meal preparation, fear not. suggests having a family steps challenge. Results can be tracked with a phone app. If that is not doable, then try doing heel lifts or countertop pushups while in the kitchen.

"Focus on moderation," said Terry Cassidy, executive director of the Bayside Center for Behavioral Health. "There's a lot to fit in those six weeks and there is a lot of expectations."

(Staff writers Suzanne Elliott and Amelia Hanks contributed to this report.

I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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