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Holiday Shopping Brings on More Stress Than Bargained for

Americans Face More Pressure During Holidays to Spend Money, Adding to Already Stressed Lives

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- For the nearly 1-in-5 Americans who shop to manage stress, sales and bargains can bring joy as Black Friday officially kicks off another holiday shopping season. But shoppers need to be cautious-excessive spending in pursuit of the "perfect" holiday can bring on more stress, as it does for many Americans during the holiday season.

Almost three-quarters of Americans report that money and work are significant sources of stress in their lives, according to the American Psychological Association (APA) 2007 Stress in America survey. The holidays then compound the pressure, as revealed in APA's 2006 poll on holiday stress.

Middle-income Americans are particularly affected as everyday financial pressures are amplified by demands to spend more. With the pressure to create the perfect holiday--a memorable meal, expensive gifts, elaborate decorations and more--not having enough money to do it all causes stress to more than 60 percent of those surveyed on holiday stress. And the worries continue when the credit card bills arrive a month later.

Taking the time to find healthy ways to manage their stress is not a priority on most Americans' holiday to-do list. More than 80 percent report that they take no additional steps to manage their stress this time of year. With hectic schedules and added holiday demands, Americans report that they are increasingly likely to turn to unhealthy behaviors like comfort eating (56 percent), drinking more alcohol (30 percent) and sedentary activities like sleeping and watching TV (43 percent).

"It's healthy to share in the holiday spirit by giving gifts, donating time and money to charities and celebrating with family, friends and coworkers. But it's also important not to get overwhelmed by the pressure to make this year's holidays the best ever," says Dr. David Ballard of the American Psychological Association. "With the multiple demands we face everyday, effective coping skills are always important but they're even more crucial this time of year, when our stress levels are higher. Stress is a normal part of life--the key is developing healthy ways to manage it, so you can be at your best in everything you do."

APA recommends these tips to help deal with holiday stressors:

Know yourself. Be aware of your stress level and know what stresses you out, especially during the holiday season. People experience stress in different ways. You may have a hard time concentrating or making decisions, feel angry, irritable or out of control or experience headaches, muscle tension or a lack of energy. Learn your own stress signals.

Recognize how you deal with stress. With holiday parties and celebrations, it's easy to overindulge. Do you engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, drinking or eating poorly to cope with your stress? Do you lose patience with your children, spouse or coworkers when you feel overwhelmed? Understand how you respond in stressful situations.

Keep a holiday "to-do" list. Worried that you'll forget to buy a gift for someone or pick up that important ingredient for your holiday meal? Clear your head by putting those thoughts on paper (or on an electronic list), creating a list of tasks and marking those with the highest priority. Not only will you reduce the risk of forgetting something, you'll also be better able to focus on the task at hand.

Find healthy ways to manage stress. Work to replace unhealthy coping strategies such as eating junk food, smoking or drinking alcohol with healthy behaviors like exercise, meditation or talking with friends and family. Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. Take it slow and focus on changing one behavior at a time. Some behaviors are very difficult to change and may require the help of a licensed professional such as a psychologist.

Take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity. It may seem a challenge with so much to do this time of year, but taking care of yourself during the holidays helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with stress. No matter how hectic life gets, make time for yourself--even if it's just simple things like reading a good book, listening to your favorite music or taking a short walk.

Ask for professional support. Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to manage stress. Use the holidays to reconnect with friends and family and strengthen your support network. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.

For tips on managing holiday stress or to learn more about stress and mind/body health, visit

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 148,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

SOURCE American Psychological Association
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