WESTFIELD — While the holiday movies of Rudolph, George Bailey and the Miracle of 34th Street tell wonderful tales of happiness and joy, many real-life stories playing out this month are sagas of stress, depression and sadness brought on by the most wonderful time of the year.
Imagine that the phone rings at CONTACT We Care, the local suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotline. A volunteer listener answers and any number of holiday conversations take place.
The call might be as simple as a father worrying about not having enough money to buys gifts for his children, a mother overwhelmed by the pressures of decorating, cooking and hosting or a teenager sad because she was not invited to any holiday parties. But there might also be the lonely woman despondent over her son’s decision to not come home for the holidays, leaving her feeling as if there is no reason to by happy, much less celebrate.
“The holidays are a time of joy for many people,” according to Joanne Oppelt, executive director of CONTACT We Care. “But they are stressful for most and even depressing for some. We are here to listen when someone is feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of the holiday season, whether they simply need to talk to get through the day or are feeling in deep crisis or even suicidal.”
More than 50 percent of women and 43 percent of men report feeling a heightened level of stress during the holiday season, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). More than 80 percent of respondents to a survey reported finding the holidays somewhat or very stressful.
The leading causes of holiday stress are a lack of time and a lack of money (69 percent each) and the pressure of gift-giving (51 percent), according to APA. Other general pressures offered by various sources include unrealistic expectations; family pressures; too many commitments; a lack of moderation in eating and drinking; taking on additional workloads (especially women); loneliness; and the anniversary of the loss of a loved one.
CONTACT We Care offers the following tips for managing stress during the holidays:
- Have Realistic Expectations – Not everything is going to be perfect so do not expect it to be.
- Set Realistic Budgets – Spend only what you can afford and talk to your children about not expecting too much.
- Set Aside Time for Yourself – Read, exercise, do something you enjoy.
- Say No – Do not accept every invitation or go to every function.
- Be With People – Surround yourself with loved ones or, if you are alone, join a club or volunteer at a charity.
- Eat Right – Minimize the sweets, take reasonable portions and drink no more than usual.
- Seek Direction – Do not feel compelled to surprise everyone with their gift – ask them what they want.
- Accept Help – If hosting a party or gathering, let others help.
- Keep Decorating Simple – Perhaps deck just one hall rather than all of them.
- Set aside differences – Let grievances or family squabbles lie.
“Most importantly, if you are feeling stressed or depressed, talk to someone,” Oppelt said. “If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a family member or friend, or if you are alone, call us. That’s why we’re here and we can help.”
CONTACT We Care’s anonymous and confidential hotline is 1-908-232-2880. To find out about becoming a volunteer listener, call 1-908-301-1899.
To help people cope with the added stress of the holiday season, CONTACT We Care is expanding its hours, answering calls made the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE) originating in New Jersey 24 hours a day beginning Dec. 3. Previously calls to Lifeline originating in New Jersey between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. were routed to Florida, resulting in a delay in answering. The expansion of hours was made possible by a $50,000 donation from The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide.