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Handling Holiday Stress

In the movies, the holidays always seem full of warm memories, quality time with loved ones, and gifts. But for many people, they may also be a time of stress and anxiety caused by financial pressures, time constraints, and menu limitations. If you’re a person living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, this stress may have an impact both on your emotions and on the management of your blood sugar. Below are several tips I offer my clients that may help you – and your loved ones – enjoy a less stressful holiday season.

Make a list ­and check it twice

Regardless of the size of your social and family circles, this time of year can get expensive. Add in the cost of medical bills, and it’s easy to get anxious about holiday costs. That’s why creating a budget may help. Start by itemizing your monthly expenses, and then subtract that amount from your monthly income. Determine how much of the remainder you want to spend on gifts, and consider that amount your holiday gift reserve.

Next, it may also help if you make a second list to prioritize your recipients. At the top, list names that are non-negotiable: the people that will be the most excited to receive a gift from you. Toward the bottom, list people you can skip if needed (don’t worry, they’ll never know). Now, assign a dollar amount to each, and subtract these amounts from your available gift reserve. If you run out before allotting a gift to everyone on the list, adjust your dollar amounts until you feel content with what everyone is getting. Then make sure to keep the list close by as you start shopping.

Some other options that may lighten the budget strain this holiday include:

  • Chip in with others on joint presents.  Splitting the costs can often help purchase a larger gift for a friend or family member, so your budget is rarely noticed.
  • Create coupons your friends and family can redeem. One year, an innovative client created three coupons. His parents got one for a home-cooked dinner. His brother and sister-in-law got one for babysitting. His girlfriend got one for two months’ worth of grocery runs. All the recipients were touched to receive such a personal, useful gift, and he was able to keep his spending in check.

Recruit some elves

A client of mine was hosting his friends and family for the holidays. In his rush to shop the weekend before – and try to do too many things at once – he forgot to eat breakfast. A little while later, he got hungry and went off his meal plan. This obviously was not what he had planned on!

After reviewing his situation, we found that creating a detailed schedule ahead of time worked for him. If you’re hosting a party, you could list all of the things you need to do, the order you need to do them in, and set deadlines for each task to keep you on track in the lead-up to the party. If it feels overwhelming or you’re new to hosting, it may help if you assign potluck dishes or delegate tasks. Don’t be afraid to get all family members on board with tasks – from kids to adults.  It may even help to name a relative as your sous-chef or designate a friend as a last-minute shopper for any forgotten items.

Consider why you might be tempted

From office holiday celebrations to New Year’s parties, the holidays abound with temptations for anyone, but they can be particularly challenging for those living with diabetes who are trying to stick to a meal plan. A past client of mine went to a swanky party on New Year’s Eve and everywhere he looked offered something that was not part of what he was “supposed” to eat, and he felt overwhelmed. He told me, “Beyond the physical temptation that I wanted to eat these holiday treats, I wanted to eat to fit in with everyone else.”

In my opinion, the answer isn’t social isolation. It’s balance. I suggested that he could take smaller portions of food, and hold himself accountable to a fellow guest and friend. A few months later, my client got the chance to put this into practice. During a family event he asked for smaller cake slices and he left the party feeling accepted, included, and in control.

One great thing about the holidays is that little of it should come as a surprise. You’ve experienced holidays before, making the possible pitfalls both more foreseeable and more likely to avoid. My final words of wisdom? Think positive. And don’t forget to make warm, wonderful memories for the future.

Eliot LeBow, MSW, LCSW, is a diabetes-focused psychotherapist, presenter, and writer. His private practice, called Diabetic Talks, is located in New York City. LeBow, who is living with type 1 diabetes, volunteers as the Emotional Health and Well-being Advisor for the American Diabetes Association and he treats the many diverse cognitive, behavioral, and emotional needs of people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. LeBow is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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