category: Campus Conversations

Tips and Techniques for Successfully Managing Seasonal Stress

Christmas ornaments

Lower Your Stress Level in as Little as One Minute

Written by Dr. Sharon Webb

Weary from stress and multiple emotions experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are looking forward to the holidays. However, Christmas celebrations will probably look different this year as families strive to keep everyone healthy.

Changing traditions could lead to more feelings of anxiety. Let’s look at some helpful coping mechanisms, which may reduce the negative impact of stress and anxiety.

Dr. Sharon Webb in her office
Dr. Sharon Webb

Perception is key as we anticipate a potential stressful experience this upcoming holiday season. It is often not just one thing, but it is a combination of things that “pileup” to impact our ability to cope in healthy ways. In addition to “normally” expected stress from Christmas shopping, additional event planning, and possibly traveling, the uncertainties of COVID-19 implications on health and holiday events may elevate levels of stress and anxiety.

Anything learned can be unlearned. Thus, ineffective thoughts and behaviors for dealing with stress and anxiety can be replaced with learned healthy strategies. We can retrain our brains to think positively—cognitively process things in a different way, which will influence how we respond to changes and uncertainties during this Christmas season.

In addition to perception, it is also important to have realistic expectations, recognizing what we can and cannot control. We often create or exacerbate our experience of stress from unrealistic expectations and demands we place on ourselves. I encourage you to offer yourself the same grace you would offer to others who are navigating the holidays through these uncertain times.

Getting enough rest, exercise, and proper nutrition are commonly known to help decrease feelings of stress, but there are additional tools that can be added to our daily routines to minimize stress and anxiety (i.e. prayer, meditation, yoga, mindfulness exercises, etc.) A common excuse for not practicing wellness is, “not enough time,” but following are some ideas for how to manage stress in healthy ways within small amounts of time:

A GWU student pets Roebuck, the GWU Bulldog.
  • One minute (stretching, grounding exercises, petting a dog or cat)
  • Five minutes (breathing exercises, journaling)
  • Fifteen minutes (chatting with a supportive friend or family member)
  • Thirty minutes (reading a book, watching a funny TV show, taking a walk, exercising)

If self-identified stress is mild to moderate, practicing any of the above strategies can help you to successfully cope and overcome feelings of stress and anxiety. If you believe stress to be at a moderate to severe level, outside help may be needed. In some cases, professional intervention may be necessary through therapy and/or medication. You can contact our GWU Counseling Center at (704) 406-4563 for a direct appointment or for referral sources.

Merry Christmas!

Dr. Sharon Webb is an associate professor of the Gardner-Webb School of Psychological Science and Counselor. She is coordinator of Clinical Mental Health Counseling Programs for the Main Campus and Charlotte Center. She received her bachelor’s, master’s and educational specialist degrees from Gardner-Webb and her doctorate from Walden University in Minneapolis, Minn. She is also a volunteer with the American Red Cross, providing counseling for the military community and serving as the Blue Ridge Piedmont Chapter Mental Health Lead, consisting of 12 counties.

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