Anxieties typically rise this time of year

There’s an anxiousness that hits this time of year: it’s called holiday stress. This overwhelming feeling can stem from various causes.

It could come from the anticipation of hosting family members you’re not thrilled about. You could feel the pressure to buy gifts, despite a tight budget. Or you could be missing a loved one who passed away.

For Don Keister, his holiday stress is related to the latter. Keister co-founded atTAcK Addiction, a statewide nonprofit to support people in recovery, after his son Tyler died of a heroin overdose in 2011.

“The biggest thing is the missed opportunities that he had and the missed opportunities that I had. You know, an empty chair at the Thanksgiving table,” he said.

“At Christmas time we go up to his grave. You try to put [the stress] aside and continue with your life, which you can do most of the time. But there’s times that you can’t, and the holidays expand that,” said Keister, headmaster at Caravel Academy in Bear.

Keister said the holiday season is especially tough for addicts because “those people hate themselves for what they do to their families and loved ones.”

Overdose deaths increased last year in Delaware. In 2017, there were 345, up 12 percent from 308 in 2016, according to the Division of Forensic Science.

To help support those in addiction and recovery, Keister’s team posted information on their Facebook page, directing them to where they can receive a free meal and encouraging them and their families to seek assistance for treatment.

The atTAcK co-founder said the solution during the holiday season for taking your mind off a loved one who passed from an overdose is to focus on the other people who are dear in your life. It’s also good to open up about how you’re feeling.

“I think talking about it and not letting the stigma affect how you react is one thing that’s really helpful to both Tyler’s mother and myself, about those times you deal with when you’re really down,” Keister said.

Drama with dad

Jordan Cook, of Middletown, said holiday stress usually finds him, one way or another, each year.

A Delaware State University junior, Cook said this past Thanksgiving was already trying because he had to decide between spending time with family or studying for his final exams.

“I was doing homework all of Thanksgiving break, to be honest, when I was at home. It sucked,” Cook said. “I might live in Middletown, but I don’t go home all the time. And when I do go home, my mom expects me to hang out with her and the family.”

Entering the 2017 holiday season, Cook said, he didn’t have the best relationship with his dad. And it didn’t help whenever he heard friends discussing the fun plans they had with their dads.

All he had to do was have a conversation with his father to improve things. “But I didn’t want to do that,” he said.

After a few years of a strained relationship, Cook tried to make amends last year. For Christmas, he gave his father a photograph of an empty Lincoln Financial Field in Philly.

The abstract gift was a symbol. His father is a die-hard Oakland Raiders fan. Cook loves the Philadelphia Eagles.

In a video on Cook’s Instagram page, he explained to his father that he had bought tickets to see the teams face off on Monday Night Football on Christmas.

In the video, Cook’s father, Paul Cook, squealed and was instantly giggly when he learned they were going to the game, sitting close to the field in row 8.

Cook said the relationship with his father has since improved. He encourages everyone to try to take the first step to mend any broken relationships with their loved ones while they’re still here.

“If you have the chance to change things, change it,” he said. “No matter what’s going on, at the end of the day, you’re always going to want that relationship.”

Parent splits on Christmas

Fellow DSU Hornet Fatima Edwards, a senior, said she relates to Cook’s struggle juggling family time and academics to maintain her 3.8 GPA.

She said many college students are challenged by having little to no income for gifts. As a freshman, Edwards said it was tough not having enough money to buy posh presents for her family.

But lack of funds motivated her to be more crafty, and since then she’s made heartfelt, handmade gifts for her loved ones.

Last year she made them snow globes. This year she’ll give them drinking glasses featuring her own personalized etchings.

Though Edwards is able to save money crafting her own gifts, she said she still feels stress from the time to make the etchings. And she’s studying for her finals in a few days.

Edwards said it’s especially important to give her family presents, because the holiday season is a delicate time.

“My father left my mom on Christmas, so Christmas is always a really touchy time in our house,” she said. “I really want to make sure I’m there and doing what I can for my family.”

Edwards said her dad left her mom 13 years ago, and the last time she heard from him was four years ago.

Growing up, she was angry her father wasn’t there on Christmas. It used to get under her skin seeing photos on social media of other families spending time together on the holidays, she said.

But, Edwards said, she’s learned to toughen up and deal with it in a positive way. Her suggestion to others in her situation would be to embrace their family more, and put down their phones.

“This should be the time where you put the phone down and spend time with the family you do have; or capitalize on the moment you do have right now,” she said.

Biz owners get ‘holiday chaos’

Once Thanksgiving comes, it’s common for entrepreneur Mike Fox’s social life to become nonexistent until Jan. 1.

Fox, owner of graphic design and marketing company Splash Designworks in Milford, said the biggest stressor for him right now is how time speeds up, because clients press him to make sure they receive their products a little earlier to ensure their loved ones receive their gifts on time.

Fox said many of his clients are entrepreneurs too, and they’re stressed because they too have shorter deadlines.

“Businesses have less time because the holiday chaos ensues. So everybody needs their products sooner, and time becomes less and less available,” Fox said.

The key to getting through the madness for business owners is essentially time management, he said.

Social media envy

John Rich, associate professor of psychology at Delaware State University, said holiday stress is for real. One of the latest contributors is social media. Don’t be deceived into feeling envious by comparing your life with others whose life might look perfect in a post.

“You assume that each post is a 100-percent representation of that person’s entire life. That they’re happy, satisfied, grateful people; that they’re basically Jesus,” Rich said.

“Yet when we make a post of something positive, we know in reality that’s just one facet of our own existence,” he said. “Nothing is perfect. We have our strife with our siblings. We have our issues with our kids. Things at work maybe aren’t as good as they should be.”

He said a way to feel better when making posts on social media is to be more of an active participant.

A passive person scrolls through their social media, just browsing pictures, whereas an active user makes posts and/or comments.

Rich said it’s healthier for people to make positive comments about things they see on social that they like, such as complimenting someone on getting a new job.

It’s also a good idea to make a post about an accomplishment or something you’re proud about, because it can help you feel valuable too, he said.

Remember you’re a ninja

One way to combat holiday stress is to live in the moment and not dwell about what could go wrong, or how terrible the experience might be.

“A state of mindfulness helps us to put ourselves back into position to realize those ‘what ifs’ are just ‘what ifs.’ They haven’t occurred,” Rich said.

He said people need to believe in themselves and remember that they’ve managed to get through hard times in the past like a ninja, and they can do it once more, too.

“When you’re sitting mired in fear and anxiety over the holidays, you’re actually building stress up in your body in reaction to events that are only going on in your imagination,” he said.