While the most stressful time of the year for most people is still months away, preparation now can help keep the lid on when pressure builds this fall.

November, December and January are arguably the toughest months on mental and emotional health. Helping Laborers and their families manage stress is part of the work of the LHSFNA Health Promotion Division. To this end, LIFELINES generally publishes financial and health guidance when the holiday season begins. This year, hoping to have greater impact and to encourage readers to plan in advance, the Fund is sharing its tips early.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD is real, though in the mix of things, it isn’t always easy to discern. SAD may be occurring if you experience episodes of depression at a certain time of the year, usually during winter. If you feel good all year but seem to slide into a funk as the winter approaches, you should talk with your health care provider. He or she will be able to address what is causing these feelings and discuss treatment options. Medication, if appropriate, could help you cope until the days begin stretching out again in the new year.

Financial Planning

You can minimize some of your holiday stress by making a cold, hard assessment of your financial situation now. Put some thought into the extra costs that go with the holidays: additional food and beverages, travel for family gatherings and gifts for relatives and friends. Once you know the expected extra costs, assess whether you will have the money to pay for them. If not, scale back accordingly. Husbands and wives need to make the time to talk about their situations so they get on the same page. It may also be useful to discuss the family situation with children and other relatives. By making a clear assessment now, you can begin saving while also keeping your eyes open to take advantage of sales or to purchase on a layaway plan. Advance consideration will also give a cash-strapped family more time to plan ways to celebrate the holidays without such an emphasis on gifts.

Health, Nutrition and Fitness

The pressure to abandon one’s diet and fitness regime is overwhelming during the holiday “eating season.” You’ll maintain the greatest fortitude if you size up the situation in advance, recognize the dangers and make plans that allow some “joy” but not irresponsible abandonment. Remind yourself that you’re going to have to make up your losses come January, and, if you don’t dig yourself into a very big hole, you’ll be patting yourself on the back when the holidays are over. While your regular program of exercise may be interrupted by holiday demands, your mental and emotional health will be well served by maintaining as much discipline as possible.  And you don’t necessarily have to completely avoid those favorite, traditional family meals…just take modest first servings, wait 20 minutes before considering seconds and limit your selections from the dessert options.

Resolve now to enter 2012 feeling your best.

Stress Management

Holiday and winter stress is part of everyone’s life, all the more so for Laborers who often experience reduced seasonal employment. Acknowledging this reality and making plans to work through it are the keys to keeping your stress under control and your holidays happy.

For more specific stress management guidance from the Health Promotion Division, see Plan Ahead to Manage Holiday Stress.

[Steve Clark]