“Joyful as they are, the holidays – beginning with Thanksgiving and ending on New Year’s Day – can be the most stressful season of the year for many of us,” reminds LIUNA General Secretary Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “For most people, the holiday season is greatly anticipated and expectations run high. Unfortunately, the risks are higher, too.”

The best way to minimize holiday stress is to be aware of the risks and make plans in advance to ease the impacts. The LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Division has summarized some guidance for four of the most common and serious holiday concerns: finances, alcohol, weight gain and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

“Far from diminishing the excitement of the season,” says Sabitoni, “setting reasonable expectations and managing behavior to achieve them will ensure a safe, positive, more relaxed and more enjoyable experience for you and your loved ones. Plan for yourself and set a good example for those around you. Make this holiday season your most enjoyable ever.”


For many people, the gift-giving and party-throwing expectations of the season increase holiday stress. The key to minimizing this problem is thoughtful planning.

The sky is the limit with expectations, so the starting place has to be the reality of your own time and financial resources. With these clearly in mind, you can establish a reasonable plan for your participation in the parties and gift exchanges of your family and friends.

  • Don’t blow your budget. Start planning your gift list as early as possible. Decide how much you can afford to spend ahead of time and stick to that amount. Remember to budget for gifts, holiday foods, party clothes, holiday décor and postage for shipping.
  • If it has been a challenging year financially, shrink your budget.
  • Talk with those with whom you exchange gifts and set reasonable, mutual expectations.
  • Watch for sales. Shop early so you have more options and time for consideration. Try to finish by December 20.
  • Pay with cash or a debit card. Leave the credit card at home. If you can’t afford to pay outright, don’t buy it.
  • Budget your time as well as your money. Don’t over commit your free time.
  • Don’t try to do everything yourself. Share party and festivity responsibilities with your family.
  • Add to the true spirit of the season by giving a gift to someone who doesn’t expect it, by visiting an old friend or by giving to someone in need.
  • Make plans (and reserve money) for some fun in January, when the post-holiday blues can set in.
  • Establish a savings plan so you’ll be financially better prepared next year.


The celebrations – not to mention the stress – of the holiday season encourage an increase in alcohol consumption. Inevitably, some people overindulge. For those with tendencies to abuse alcohol, holiday parties provide opportunities to drink “under cover,” as family, friends and co-workers also imbibe.

Unfortunately, holiday parties also present the likelihood that people who have consumed alcohol will get behind the wheel to drive themselves and their friends or family home. This time of year means increased risk of accidents for everyone on the road, whether under the influence or driving sober.

Police enforcement increases around the holidays, so the risk of a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) arrest is greater. According to numerous internet sources (e.g., MSN Money), the typical DUI conviction will cost you at least $10,000. Compare that to the cost of taking a cab.

The legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for driving in all states is 0.08 percent, and, in some states, police will arrest individuals with BACs below 0.08 if an officer observes erratic or unsafe driving behavior. It is easy to misjudge the impact of a few drinks. How quickly you might exceed the BAC limit depends on your weight, what you are drinking, how many drinks you have and how fast you drink them. Though each individual is different, typically (see BAC Charts), a 160-pound man will exceed this limit with his fourth drink; a 220-pound man with his fifth. Two drinks will put a 100-pound woman over the limit. You can calculate your own limit at the Drink Wheel.

The best advice is simple: do not drive if you’ve consumed any alcohol. Plan ahead to prevent impaired driving:

  • Designate a sober driver (the “designated driver”).
  • Take a taxi.
  • Call a family member or friend to pick you up.
  • Ask your host if you can stay over.

A useful resource is the LHSFNA publication It’s Your Choice When You Know the Facts about Drugs and Alcohol, available through the online catalogue.

Weight Gain

In recent years, Canadians and Americans have recognized the need to reduce their weight and improve their fitness, but the traditional feasts and treats of the holiday season pose a major challenge.

Despite the consequences, most people are still going to eat their “favorites” and gain some weight over the holidays. The goal should be to keep weight gain to a minimum.

To help prevent weight-gain, follow these tips:

  • Keep up your routines of physical activity and add ten minutes to combat overeating. Exercise burns calories, relieves stress and elevates endorphins (positive mood hormones).
  • Don’t skip meals. Hunger and low blood sugar spur overeating.
  • Don’t pass up favorite foods, but keep your portion sizes down. Moderation is best.
  • Don’t go to a party hungry. Before you go, eat something light and plan how much you will eat and drink at the party. And after you arrive, do not station yourself next to the buffet.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Alcohol has lots of calories. Alternate your drinks with glasses of water.
  • When you sit down for a meal, make sure you are eating plenty of salad and vegetables before you fill up on potatoes, meat and gravy.
  • Keep in mind that, come January, you’re going to have to shed whatever pounds you may have gained.
  • Enjoy the season, not just the food!

Two weight-related publications are available from the LHSFNA online catalogueWeight Matters and Becoming Physically Active.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: When It’s More than Just the Winter Blues

While some people welcome winter and look forward to all that it brings, winter can be a tough time of year, especially for Laborers. In the winter, Laborers tend to work the fewest number of hours and bring in the least amount of money, yet expenses tend to be high – the holidays come with budgets gone overboard; heating, gas and electric bills reach their peaks and money spent on entertainment increases because Laborers have more time on their hands.

These things, alone, can put anyone in the dumps. Then, add in shorter days – less sunlight and more darkness – and winter can be a very hard time of year for some people.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that follows the changing seasons. The most common type of SAD is called winter depression. It usually begins in late fall or early winter and goes away by summer and is more common in northern regions.

As many as six out of every 100 people in the United States have winter depression. Another ten to 20 percent experience mild SAD effects. Although some children and teenagers get SAD, it usually does not start in people younger than 20.

Common symptoms of winter depression include:

  • A change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • A heavy feeling in the arms or legs
  • A drop in energy level
  • Fatigue
  • A tendency to oversleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Increased sensitivity to social rejection
  • Avoidance of social situations

Winter depression is likely caused by your body’s reaction to a lack of sunlight. Light therapy is one option for treating winter depression.

If you have SAD symptoms, it is important to seek a diagnosis, not only to treat it but also to rule out other medical or situational conditions that can contribute to feeling sick and “blue.” For this reason, meeting with a MAP counselor is a good place to start. The counselor will be able to assess what is causing your symptoms and address the problem or refer you to someone who can. If you would like to speak with a counselor regarding a stress issue or any other mental health concern – either your own or someone else’s – call your local member assistance program or consult with your health care provider.

More information on SAD is available from the Medline (National Institutes of Health) and the Mayo Clinic.

[Steve Clark]