The Nightmares Before Christmas – And How to Avoid Them

Holiday nightmares

It’s that time of year again! The time when your stress levels go through the roof as you shop, cook, wrap, decorate, travel and party-plan yourself into a tizzy while trying to create the perfect holiday season. Drexel experts have identified some of the top stress-inducing holiday nightmares and offer some helpful tips for avoiding them this year.

  • Identity Theft: “Watch out for requests via email and through social media sites for donations from fake charities. If you are going to donate this holiday season, go directly to the website of a charity,” said cybersecurity expert Rob D’Ovidio, PhD, associate professor of sociology and criminal justice in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences. D’Ovidio also can offer tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud while shopping for gifts online.

  • The Winter Blues: Getting to the office before the sun rises and leaving when it is already dark outside can throw off a person’s biological clock and cause the winter blues to creep in. Don McEachron, PhD, a teaching professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, is an expert on circadian rhythms and the body’s responses to natural light. He can comment on how to keep your biorhythms in synch during winter. “Early morning light exposure can help to reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of winter depression,” McEachron said. “For some, this takes the form of therapeutic light boxes prescribed by a health care provider. There is also evidence that so-called ‘dawn simulators,’ which mimic the gradual rise of the sun, can help.

  • Terrible Toys: Every year, parents dread the toys that their kids will ask Santa for – whether it’s violent video games, toys with a million tiny pieces or ones with batteries that always need to be replaced. Michael Glaser, an assistant professor and director of the product design program in the Westphal College, advises people to give the kids in their life toys that will provide hours and years of creative play. “To activate a child's creativity, choose toys that encourage open-ended play; toys that permit the child to invent, explore and dream. This can include toys that are labeled STEM or STEAM such as K’nex or Snap Circuits.”

  • Stress: When holiday shopping is stressing you out, take a break from the mall and light a cinnamon candle, suggests Stephanie Maxine Ross, the director of the Complementary and Integrative Therapy Program in the College of Nursing and Health Professions. An expert on alternative therapies, Ross says that the aromas of the holidays—like pine needles and spices—can be therapeutic. One oil formula she suggests, called “Tis the Season Home Spray,” is designed to capture the essence of the season, evoke pleasant memories and bring a sense of calm. To create it, add 5 drops of pine, 5 drops of neroli and 2 drops of cinnamon to 4 ounces of water.

  • Overeating: “Always try to eat some low-calorie, low sugar/low fat food before heading off to a party to take the ‘edge’ off your appetite,” advises Jennifer Nasser, PhD, associate professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions and director of the PhD program in nutrition sciences. Nasser’s research focuses on how neurotransmitters in the brain — namely, dopamine — react to food intake and what that means when applied to obesity, eating disorders and aging. To get a live look at the brain during a meal, Nasser has used a functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) device to analyze the brain’s responses to different foods.

  • Retail Madness: Retailers often build complexity in product prices making it harder for shoppers to compare prices, according to Rajneesh Suri, professor of marketing in the LeBow College of Business. Price complexity might be impacted by aspects other than the often-assumed culprit: the tricky math behind the price promotions. Colors, fonts, location of prices and background music impact consumers’ decisions. “Being aware of recent research on price promotions behind such consumer decision-making can help consumers lift the fog created by confusing price promotions.”

  • Holiday Décor Arms Race: Pop culture expert Ron Bishop, PhD, a professor of communication and culture in the College of Arts and Sciences, can talk about America’s culture of excess during the holidays, exemplified by outrageous Christmas light displays, as discussed in his book “MORE: The Vanishing of Scale in an Over-the-Top Nation.” Bishop advises people to “take with a giant grain of salt the media's narrative about having to imbue every last nook and cranny of the holidays with excess. And if that doesn't work, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, cuddle with your significant other and watch your favorite holiday special."

  • Fashion Faux Pas: While the ugly Christmas sweater has transcended the fashion faux pas and actually become a holiday must-have, there are plenty of other “fashion don’ts” you should avoid this season. Lisa Hayes, associate professor and director of the fashion design program in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, can weigh in. “Keep it simple! It’s all about the LBD (little black dress),” said Hayes. “You can avoid looking too fussy, too over dressed, too sleazy, too glitzy or too under dressed if you make sure you have a little black dress on hand. If it’s a dressier event, accessorize with jewelry and a sheer leg with heels. If it’s a bit more relaxed, accessorize with an opaque leg and maybe even a boot and chunkier or more casual scarf.”

  • Loss in the Family: "Plan ahead. Come up with a list of things or people that will help you cope with your sadness so you don't feel so lost when a sensitive topic arises," said Suzanne Levy, PhD, clinical director of the Attachment-Based Family Therapy Training Program in the Drexel College of Nursing and Health Professions’ Center for Family Intervention Science. She conducts training workshops for Attachment-Based Family Therapy treatment and also supervises therapists across the country and globe. She’s also co-authored the book, “Attachment-Based Family Therapy for Depressed Adolescents.”
  • Family Feuds: “Give yourself permission to set boundaries. Some find being around extended family stressful because they want to please everyone and meet family members’ expectations. Instead, be honest about your limitations,” said Erica Wilkins, PhD, assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions. Wilkins, who is also a clinical coordinator in the college’s Couple and Family Therapy Department, said those limitations could be as simple as not wanting to be in charge of desserts for the year or extend to speaking up about not wanting to host all of the cousins this time. And another standby? “Take five,” Wilkins said. “Step outside, go for a walk or even offer to run a holiday errand to give yourself time to take some deep breaths.”