Health & Safety

December 19, 2013

Manage stress this holiday season, avoid legal pitfalls

Cindy Middleton
17th Training Wing Legal Office

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas  — The holidays are upon us. Advertisements urge us to flock to the stores and spend, spend, spend. Charitable organizations ramp up their requests for donations to support the less fortunate. Many messages suggest that we’re supposed to spend lots of quality time with our loved ones. Military leadership encourages us to get away from the rigors of military life for a short time while still remembering that we’re in the military and acting accordingly. And the news media won’t let us forget that our economy is in crises.

All of these apparently anxiety-provoking messages and expectations can add to an already stressful season. We all know that when we are experiencing negative stress, we are more likely to make bad decisions. So here are a few thoughts to help you reduce that stress and hopefully keep out of trouble.

Have realistic expectations about the holidays. Don’t expect your experience to be like what we see on TV and at the movies. Very few of us have white Christmases, and almost none of us see a horse-drawn sleigh jingling its bells as it glides by our pristine winter ranch. Those images and ideas are not reality, and a quick look around you will prove that. Consider all the good things you have going for you, and be grateful for them. Don’t let the entertainment and advertising industries dictate your concept of the ideal holiday.

Part of managing expectations is realizing that not everything is perfect. For example, remember that while we enjoy seeing friends and family, there is also stress related to those visits, whether it’s sleeping on the cold floor with the dog that aggravates your allergies because all the beds are taken, or putting up with family members you don’t particularly like. Or, if you’re one of the lucking ones who gets snow on Christmas, that snow may wreak havoc on your travel plans. If you can keep these realities in perspective, you’re more likely to enjoy the upsides to the holidays and not be frustrated by any downsides.

Develop good, healthy plans to deal with the season’s activities. If you’re buying gifts, spend only what you can truly afford (and don’t forget to plan for unexpected expenses when deciding what you can afford). It won’t make you happy to spend beyond your means now, only to have to deal with a mountain of debt later.

If you’re traveling and visiting family, don’t forget to carve out time for yourself. If your family (especially your parents and grandparents) are like most, they’ll want to spend every waking moment with you. If you let them know in advance that you have to do some things without them, they’ll be less disappointed and more understanding, and you’ll have a better chance at keeping your sanity.

Also, when unwinding from the demands of military life, keep in mind that you’re still a military member, subject to military rules and regulations 24/7/365. Trying to relieve stress in unhealthy ways is only going to make things worse. I’m referring specifically about underage drinking, drinking to excess, drinking and driving, and illegal drug use, and any activities that are criminal or that can make the Air Force look bad.

There are many ways to constructively deal with stress. Even if our society has de-emphasized the spiritual or communal aspect of the holidays, you don’t have to. Practice your faith, volunteer your time to do good things for others, donate money to charity, or all of the above. You’re not going to solve that world’s problems singlehandedly during the holidays, but you can help with the effort. Doing so can help relieve stress and make you feel good, all while benefitting others and reinforcing the holiday spirit.

Finally, maintain your situational awareness. The military teaches us to look out for each other, so keep an eye out for people who show signs of depression or stress and talk to them. You may be the only one who notices someone in that position – the civilian world typically doesn’t teach these skills – so you may have a unique opportunity to truly show some holiday spirit. Also, don’t be afraid to elevate or share your concerns with others as appropriate. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.

But don’t just keep an eye out for others; look in the mirror during the holidays and keep an eye on yourself. If you’re feeling depressed or stressed, don’t keep it bottled up. Deal with the stress the right way. Talk to someone about it and get the help you need. There’s no shame in recognizing a problem and taking steps to solve it. In fact, we expect military members to do just that. And don’t be worried about your career. If you’re proactive, you’re probably going to help your career.

The holidays can be a lot of fun, but they can also be stressful. You can help decrease the stress and increase your enjoyment by managing your expectations, dealing with stress in constructive ways, and by looking out for yourself and others. The Legal Office offers legal assistance to help reduce some of your stress – whether its holiday related or not.  Here’s hoping you have the best holiday season yet!




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(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Chris Drzazgowski)

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