Sunday, December 9, 2012

Giant Talk: Coping with Anxiety During the Holiday Season by Chelsea H. Hersperger, Psy. D.

Here's Chelsea Hersperger, Psy. D., relaxing before her talk. One of her gifts is behind her on the table, a magnificent curly poinsettia, personally chosen for me by Eddie Washington who's worked at Kremp Florist for 26 of his 50 years. His family threw a surprise 50th for him at the VFW. Here's an article on Kremp's I wrote.

The second gift was a do-it-yourself kit to make a Kaleidoscope.

Chelsea's talk was absolutely WONDERFUL. And we did indeed have a room full of people, thankfully, who heard it and were very engaged. Chelsea works at the  Anxiety and Agoraphobia Treatment Center in Bala Cynwyd.


Anxiety used to be helpful in Caveman Days. The vigilant survived.

Symptoms include: shakiness, fast breathing, heart pounding.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law of 1908 says that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point. When levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases.

So, some stress is good, but only up to a point.


There may be a genetic vulnerability.

Economic problems.

Stressors at holiday time: gifts, cooking, parties, deaths of loved ones we remember, job loss, being overweight.

You can deal with these stressors in a proactive, positive way, or negatively.

Good ole Wayne Dyer wrote a book about it in 1993. Highly recommended!

At Holiday Time it's important to be a kid again. "We get to have dinner with everyone!" - "Can't wait to see all the lights and decorations!" - "People will love the gifts I gave them."

Oh-oh! What if you don't feel that way. What if you don't enjoy being with some people in your family.

One audience member "Anna" said she couldn't stand the way her inlaws treat children. They make the kids sit still during the entire meal and not allow them to be children.

So, Anna and her husband only go over there for dessert.

This is called the DIVIDE AND CONQUER STRATEGY, proposed by Wayne Dyer.

Go to different family gatherings for hors d'oeuvres - main meal - dessert. This way everyone feels included. And important.

Chelsea recommends the above book which describes a 6-stage process for handling problems in an assertive way. (I found the below on the web, altho Chelsea went over them.)

Use the mnemonic LADDER:

L – Look at your rights and what you want, and understand your feelings about the situation
A – Arrange a meeting with the other person to discuss the situation
D – Define the problem specifically. Use "I" statements. "I feel pressured when you ask me to bake cookies at the last minute."
D – Describe your feelings so that the other person fully understands how you feel about the situation
E – Express what you want clearly and concisely
R – Reinforce the other person by explaining the mutual benefits of adopting the site of action you are suggesting.

Many demands are made to us during the busy holiday season. We must be assertive in expressing what we wanna do and what we do not wanna do.


Practice "self-efficacy" which simply means standing up for yourself. By doing so, you will learn to feel more confident and have people respect your wishes.

Take time out for yourself. Be with friends. If you need to vent, do it with the right people.

We can't choose our families but we can choose our family of friends....the people we choose to hang out with.

If you enjoy baking bread for the holidays, bring that to the dinner.

Every day is a new day. Today is Sunday. If I didn't get something done today, tomorrow is a new day.



You don't like writing Xmas or Chanukah cards? Skip it. Why not call people instead and wish them happy holidays voice to voice.

 Whew! Thanks, Chelsea. That solved one of my holiday problems.

Don't like shopping? How about online shopping?

Don't like making the turkey? Buy one already cooked.

Thanksgiving Made Simple And, yes, our Willow Grove Giant offers fully-cooked.


Tune in to what you're eating. Pay attention. Sit and savor your food. There's a well-known exercise, said Chelsea, of chewing only one raisin. Chew chew chew. Pay attention to its taste, the way it feels in your mouth.

"This is a miniature mindfulness meditation," according to this fab website I just discovered. It was originally taught by Buddhist monk Edward Espe Brown, author of Tassjara Cookbook, which yours truly has.

To avoid weight gain, a study at Duke recommends people walk 30 minutes a day.

Walking time may be spread throughout the day. 

Chelsea has an app on her iPhone called MyFitnessPal. 


Instead of buying gifts, why not give creative gifts?

Baked goods, cookies, cakes, breads. Who wouldn't love these?

Make your own coupons! This coupon is worth one week of my coming over and washing your dishes. Or washing your car.

Create a family recipe book. Or photo album. Or frame a great family photo and give it as a gift.


I like Chelsea's definition of rumination - Like wet clothes in the dryer going round n round on the no-heat cycle, but nothing ever dries.

Limit worrying to 30 minutes a day. We do need worry-time but don't let it interfere with your daily activities.

Set aside a specific time of day for worry. When you notice yourself straying from that time, say "Wait! I'll think about it during worry-time!"

It works, she said.


Step back and observe life w/o judgment.

Are you in line in a store and getting anxious?

Simply observe the whole process. Practice deep breathing, if you wish. Look at whatever floats your boat and simply enjoy your valuable time spent in line. Nothing you can do to make the line go faster.


Put one hand on your chest, the other on your abdomen.

As you breathe deeply, do you feel your belly rise? Or your chest rise?

The belly should rise, as this is deep breathing - which is good for you - rathan shallow breathing.

Below is a poem I wrote previously b/c writing poems is something I love to do!

Thich Nhat Hahn - pronounced Tick Not Hahn - is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. Author of many books, I particularly like "Anger."


When I began eating my omelet
sprinkled with scallions
and melted cheddar,
hot to the tongue
and thought of my Christmas shopping
and the places I’d go
I asked Thich Nhat Hahn to
sit with me in the kitchen
to help me savor my food.

In dark robes
he bowed his head
over black tea I prepared,
delicately lifted the white cup
as he bowed again
meeting my eyes,
eyes that have seen much
some of it wrapped into books
or poetry or praying for peace.

Taste returned to my tongue
the omelet and the goodness of
the hen who had given her life for me
I became one with the morning
The sun shone into my living room
I bowed my head in thanks for its
arrival that morning
Then lifted my glass of water
stared at the clear cold liquid
then drank,
it is cold and it is good to me.

And the master across the table
pinkie lifted as he drained
the last of his jasmine tea.


  1. Great tips. We definitely have a genetic predispositon in our family for anxiety and some OCD also, as evidenced in a several generations and cousins not raised in the same environment, and in our kids too.

    I liked this poem when I first read it and still like it a lot!

  2. Yes, one should always thank the hen - and the hog - and the beef steer - the salmon - the whale - whatever creature that has given up its life to sustain yours.