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Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

IPRC offers tips for safe, less stressful holiday season

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The holidays can often be a source of heightened stress, anxiety and substance abuse for many people. Experts from the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University's School of Public Health-Bloomington are offering advice for achieving a happier and healthier holiday season.

When the holiday blues get you down

Seasonal depression is enough of a concern during the winter, and the holidays don't always help to make the season bright.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, about 10 percent of Americans suffer from some type of depression each year. Katharine Sadler, community prevention specialist at the IPRC, said depression among adults tends to get even worse during the holidays.

"It's what they call the winter blues, and it can cause mood swings," Sadler said. "During the holidays, there's additional stress, additional activities, and some people don't do as well with the changes in activity level or the pressure of finding gifts."

Sadler offers tips to make the season less stressful:

  • Healthy habits: Holiday activities often lead to great changes in diet and sleeping habits, which in turn can affect one's mood. Remember to keep up with your vitamin intake amongst the holiday cookies, and think again before you stay at a holiday party for an extra hour. Try exercising more during the holidays as well to keep endorphins high.
  • Reach out: Can't get home to family? If you're alone for the holidays, reach out to spend it with someone. Ask someone to join you for Christmas, or ask to tag along to someone else's activities.
  • Change your way of thinking: "Changing the way you think, feel or act can create a snowball effect," Sadler said. "Change the way you approach one thing and it can change your thoughts and feelings about all of it." Instead of thinking about all the things you don't like about the holidays, try to focus on the parts that make you happy, and you will feel happier.
  • Look to the future: If the holidays are still too much stress, plan something fun for January or February to look forward to. Getting through this time is one step closer to getting to have some fun on your terms.

Sadler can be reached at kbrownsa@indiana.edu.

December drinking do's and don'ts

December stands as National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, and for good reason.

In 2012, about 10,000 fatalities were reported in alcohol-related crashes. According to data collected from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a spike in those crashes tends to occur between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"One of the things that happens during the holidays is a lot more alcohol becomes available," said Carole Nowicke, research associate and reference librarian at the IPRC. "People are going to parties with open bars, people will be pouring their own drinks, and they may end up drinking a lot more than they expected."

Not only that, but with communal bowls of sweetened drinks such as eggnog or holiday punch, there's no telling what amount of alcohol you may be consuming. Unsupervised open bars also lend themselves to the dangers of underage drinking and binge drinking.

To ensure your safety and the safety of others when taking in the holiday "spirits," Nowicke offers these suggestions for drinking this December:

  • Pace yourself: Though everyone's body is different, it typically takes about one hour to metabolize a serving of alcohol. Sticking to one drink an hour, and restraining from drinking in your last hour, will help get you and others home safely.
  • Keep hydrated, and keep eating: Alternate every alcoholic drink with a glass of water, or something non-alcoholic. Alcohol is a diuretic, and if you don't replenish fluids, thirst may drive your drinking. Likewise, don't feel bad about hogging the pigs in a blanket at a holiday party -- snacking also helps slow the body's absorption of alcohol.
  • Limit alcohol availability: Just as servers are at restaurants, hosts may be held liable for intoxicated guests harming others. To keep any alcohol-related problems from occurring, you may wish to limit the amount of alcohol you serve during your holiday get-together. Stick to drinks with lower alcohol content like wine and beer, and ensure that alcohol-free beverages are available for those who do not care to drink or have substance abuse problems. Above all, drink responsibly.

Nowicke can be reached at 812-855-1237 or cnowicke@indiana.edu.

Don't make the holidays a gamble

The stress of the holiday season isn't limited to a notable increase in just substance abuse and depression in individuals but also in addictive behaviors, such as gambling.

According the National Council on Problem Gambling, 4 million to 6 million adults in the United States have issues with gambling, and another 2 million adults demonstrate a pathologic desire to gamble. Mary A. Lay, adjunct professor in the School of Public Health-Bloomington and program manager for the Indiana Problem Gambling Awareness Program at the IPRC, said holiday stress can also lead to increased gambling-related issues.

"Whether you don't have enough money for gifts or you're just stressed about the holiday season, people will go gamble because they feel it's their only outlet," Lay said.

Instead of letting the stress of the holidays push you to addictive behaviors, like gambling, keep these suggestions in mind to stave off the risky holiday behavior:

  • Make plans: "People often gamble because they don't have any other exciting things to do," Lay said. Set plans in advance for how you'll spend your free time, like making a list of the new holiday blockbusters you'd like to see, or finally getting around to checking out a new restaurant in the area. Sticking to new experiences tends to increase excitement in areas outside gambling.
  • Budget your money, and stick to it: Often the most stressful part of the holiday season is gift-giving and the cash drain it becomes, which can turn some people to gambling in desperate moments. Setting a holiday budget on gifts early and actively refraining from over-spending can keep it from becoming an issue.
  • Don't gift gamble: Scratch-off cards and lottery tickets have been a stocking staple for years, but it's not always the most appropriate gift, especially when given to minors. Remember to gift responsibly for all occasions.
  • Seek help: Whether it's confiding in a family member, a close friend or a support group, reach out if gambling becomes an issue during the holidays. The problem gambling hotline is also available for assistance at 800-994-8448 to speak with trained professionals about gambling-related issues.

Lay can be reached at 812-856-4885 or maholtsc@indiana.edu.

Give support this holiday season

One way to give back this holiday season is to give more time to friends and loved ones in the form of support, especially if you know they suffer from any heightened holiday troubles.

In the 2012 County Health Rankings for Indiana, about 19 percent of residents reported having "no social-emotional support" in their lives. Barbara Seitz de Martinez, deputy director of the IPRC, said that not having a support system drastically diminishes what is known as protective factors, or the conditions that would reduce the impact of certain stressful situations or change the way someone would respond to them to buffer the risk of mental health issues.

"Having a social support system is so important to mental health," Seitz de Martinez said. "Having another person there can make all the difference."

In order to be a good resource for people in need of extra emotional support this holiday season, Seitz de Martinez offers these tips:

  • Be open: Let your family member or loved one know that you care by broaching the subject on important issues and encouraging them to talk to you. Actively communicating your concern lets them know they have your support.
  • Be inclusive: "One of the most helpful or appreciated things for people who are uncomfortable during the holiday season is to feel included during holiday activities," Seitz de Martinez said. If you notice someone at a holiday party, be it a less-social family member or a quiet co-worker, try to include them in conversation to let them know their presence is appreciated.
  • Be aware: Whether you are hosting a party or just having fun, be aware of the drinking behaviors of others. Be more active in voicing concerns if someone has had too much to drink and make sure they have a designated driver to get them home.

Seitz de Martinez can be reached at 812-855-6776 or seitzb@indiana.edu.

About the Indiana Prevention Resource Center

The center is funded, in part, by a contract with the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, Division of Mental Health and Addiction, financially supported through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant. The Indiana Prevention Resource Center is operated by the Department of Applied Health Science at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington. It is affiliated with the school’s Institute for Research on Addictive Behavior.

The IPRC also provides a home for the Tobacco Enforcement Program, the Screening and Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment project, the State Adolescent Treatment Enhancement and Dissemination project, and is affiliated with the Indiana Institute for Research on Addictive Behavior.