A little help from our campus counselors

12:37:11 PM CDT - Tuesday, December 05, 2006

By Shannon Littlejohn

Go ahead. Make the holiday treats. Make the house glitter and glow. Make an appearance at all festivities and, by all means, don't leave anyone off the seasonal greeting or buying list.

But as you make running ragged through the season an Olympic sport, don't forget to make a plan for yourself, said Maureen Dasey-Morales, director of WSU's Counseling and Testing Center.

"People tend to put themselves last in the holiday times and get overstressed," said Dasey-Morales, who added that, unfortunately, counseling is the first thing to go during the winter holidays -- especially on a university campus where those days coincide with end-of-fall-semester testing and spring-semester planning.

Still, as she reminded staff from campus life and university relations in a recent in-service, the CTC's mission is to help the campus community of students, faculty and staff through life problems, including stress, anxiety and depression. When life gets too overwhelming, CTC professionals are available for only $8 per session and will also refer to a consulting psychiatrist for pharmaceutical help, if needed.

Stress, however, doesn't have to land you in counseling. That's where a plan comes in, including the ability to know when you need professional help.

Your plan should definitely include saving time for yourself and keeping your expectations low, Dasey-Morales said.

Having unrealistic expectations of the holidays is probably the most frequent place that people get themselves in trouble, said Greg Buell, associate director of the CTC.

"People think, 'This is going to be the best Christmas ever; Uncle Billy and Dad are going to get along now,'" Buell said, and then are disappointed when their rosy predictions don't come true.

Buell said the CTC normally experiences an after-holiday bump in numbers of visits and new clients, but if its professionals can talk to them beforehand, the first thing they talk about is adjusting expectations.

"If you can plan ahead and keep control of yourself, that is the one thing that you can control," he said.

Knowing when to get professional help includes being sensitive to overload, Buell said.

"We all might have one or two things, maybe a little headache or tummyache or trouble with concentration," he said. "If you're having one or two symptoms more than you usually experience, take it seriously. That's an early alert that you're at risk."

Buell suggests that keeping some sense of normalcy will help.

"Pay attention to rest, nutrition and exercise -- some of the typical things that you pay some attention to on a regular basis," he said. "Also, where possible, take breaks. We get overwhelmed with the activity and people and family. So take time for yourself to take assessment of where things are going."

Although the number of clients doesn't go up until after the holidays, the center does see more crisis clients -- people feeling hopeless and alone -- during them, said Dasey-Morales.

"You notice even more all the people who have someone," she said, "and there are all these commercials on TV about family togetherness, and that's just not reality for all people."

CTC counselors see people more often for depression and anxiety than for anything else. Clients often come in when the pain of how things are going becomes more uncomfortable and they're not willing to live that way anymore, Dasey-Morales said. The center will help them assess how serious the problem is and how to proceed.

For more information about the CTC and its services, call 978-3440 or visit webs.wichita.edu/cnsltst/. Meanwhile, try to relax and have a happy low-expectation holiday.

Holiday stress plan
- Make time for yourself.
- Lower your expectations.
- Try not to worry about things out of your control.
- Exercise. A few extra minutes a day can benefit overall health.
- Eat nutritional food.
- Rest. Eight hours of sleep each day really does help.
- Try to recognize when you need help. In that case, help is here on campus.

The Counseling and Testing Center can help you navigate through the following and more:
- Difficulties with family/friends
- Academic stress
- Issues with self-esteem/self-doubt
- Anxiety/stress
- General depression/unhappiness
- Negative habits
- Anger management
- Time management
- Confusion about career direction

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