Holiday stress a real issue for some

Experts offer advice for coping
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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With the holidays comes the expectation of joy, family togetherness and celebration. It’s a time to be happy and forget the problems of the year, right?

When that expectation isn’t reached, problems can rise to the surface – depression, alcohol abuse and domestic violence are all real issues around the holiday season, local experts say.

Acknowledging that it isn’t always a joyous time for everyone is important, and there are ways to help cope with some of the challenges, said Maureen Bauman, mental health director for Placer County.

“There is this cultural expectation that the holidays are going to be the most amazing, wonderful, delightful time of the year, and we have a lot of social hype about that,” Bauman said. “And so I do think that sometimes people are challenged to even acknowledge that they do not feel so joyful.”

Manage expectations, avoid setting the bar unrealistically high, be patient, know what activities trigger stress and minimize time spent doing them are a few good starting points everyone should keep in mind, she said.

“People need to take care of themselves this time of the year,” Bauman said, and often it is easy for people to get completely engulfed in taking care of others.

If help is needed, even if it’s just asking for a hand in the kitchen, don’t hesitate to reach out, she said. And if stress is rising, take some time to slow down, she added.

“Sometimes we let ourselves get too stressed and we’re really upset and short with other people, so trying to recognize my own signs of, OK, I’m starting to get stressed, I can sort of pause and breath a little bit, walk around the block,” Bauman said. “Because it’s a busy time of year. It’s not like I can take a vacation, but I can set it up that I can take a break if I need to.”

Keep in mind “there’s no one right way to have a holiday,” and it’s OK to set aside old traditions and create new ones, something that can be hard to realize for families feeling the effects of a recent divorce or death, she said.

Situational sadness or the holiday blues can temporarily come and go, but if depression is lingering, it’s important to seek professional medical help, she said.


Domestic violence

A recent study showed reports of domestic violence do not increase during the holiday season, contrary to a popular perception, but there are many incidents – especially during that time – that go unreported, said Michelle Coleman, executive director of Stand Up Placer.

Coleman said a common story she hears is that victims avoid reporting during the holidays because they’re trying to ensure the holidays are good for the children in the household.

Then, reports increase “drastically” after the season ends, she said.

“They will say, ‘I will take everything I possibly can, and do everything I can to prevent the violence from happening, or if it does, I want to minimize it because I don’t want my children to have a bad holiday,’” Coleman said. “So they think they’re doing something good for the children by hanging in there.”

That’s concerning, because it’s doing the opposite for the children, she said, as it creates tension, anxiety and fear.

“A lot of wonderful toys are good, but they’re still frightened to death the whole time,” Coleman said. “So the holidays, in a family where there’s family violence, no matter what it looks like from the outside is seldom a good time for the children.”

Stand Up Placer has a 24-hour crisis hotline at (800) 575-5352. If someone needs to get out of a situation, they will help, whether that means coming up for a plan if it comes to that point, or if that point has already been reached, Coleman said.

She stressed that safety is a priority and encouraged calling police if needed.


Alcohol abuse

When he was younger, the holidays weren’t a happy time for James, but this December he has something to celebrate: 30 years of sobriety.

His last name withheld because he’s a member of the Auburn Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, James recalled the holidays of his youth during which his father would drink and he, too, would go on to seek solace from the bottle.

“It would just kind of be bearable by drinking,” he said.

When James got sober, he said early on, the holidays were a difficult period to get through.

“Alcoholism is a family disease, the whole family is affected by it, and Christmas is a family celebration, so it’s hard to be around family a lot of times because our drinking tends to isolate us from our family,” he said. “Oftentimes there’s a lot of drinking around the holidays, and once we get sober, we may still be around a lot of people in our family who drink, and that’s a challenge.”

That makes it extra important to stay close to a support group and AA friends, James said.

Starting 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, AA meetings will run hourly for 24 hours, and the same goes for New Year’s Eve, at Auburn has two locations. The Auburn Fellowship meets at 244 Palm Avenue and the North Auburn group at 4076 Highway 49.

“We see a lot of quasi-New Year’s resolutions people tend to … hit their bottom where they really, truly realize they need to do something about their drinking,” James said. “So we tend to see more people coming this time of year, that’s for sure.”

For meeting schedules and more information on local AA chapters, visit


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews