Friday, November 30, 2012

Managing Stress During the Holiday Season

While the holidays bring plenty of cheer and laughter, they also tend to bring a great deal of stress. Planning face-time with family, coordinating activities, and managing the financial aspect of the holiday season can often become overwhelming. The following suggestions from the Mayo Clinic aim to reduce holiday-related pressure and anxiety:

Stick to a budget. It might be helpful to decide in advance how much you are going to spend. The trick is to then stick to it. Remember that gifts and presents do not equate to happiness. Do not extend beyond your means. If you have a large family or are traveling, consider other gift-giving arrangements. Some alternatives include donating to a charity in someone’s name or exchanging homemade gifts.

Plan ahead to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Trying to visit all of the family in a single day can be exhausting. Spreading family visits over the course of several days will allow you to make the most of the time you do spend with relatives. If certain relatives drive you crazy, consider activities that minimize the amount of time you spend together, like a cup of coffee or a quick lunch. Establishing some organizational tools can also help minimize unnecessary stress. For example, generating lists can help keep you focused while shopping or planning meals and activities.

Be flexible and realistic. Striving for utter perfection can often lead to disappointment when things do not pan out as hoped. The ability to make adjustments along the way is essential. Do not be afraid to adopt new traditions that better suit your family’s needs. Remember that traditions can grow and change as your family does and not every year has to be exactly like the one before.

Maintain healthy habits. The holidays are full of temptation. Remember to keep everything in moderation. Overindulgence can often lead to feelings of guilt. Try to strike a balance between some indulgence and maintaining your regular habits and routines. Exercise regularly and make sure you get enough sleep. Engaging the family in physical activities together can help make those healthy routines seem a little more fun.

Be aware of your feelings. Holidays may not necessarily be happy and joyous, particularly for those who have lost a loved one. Take the time to acknowledge and work through your emotions. If you are feeling isolated, reach out by volunteering or get involved in community events. When dealing with pushy family members, do not be afraid to say no. At the same time, do not be afraid to ask for help when you are feeling swamped. Openness and honesty can prevent harboring frustration, anger, and resentment. Take some time for yourself and relax as well.

For divorced families, the holidays can often be particularly challenging. The American Psychological Association offers several key pieces of advice for the holiday season, beginning with the importance of setting aside differences and laying down the sword. Put the needs of your children first. Encourage your children to spend time with your former spouse and reassure them that you will be fine when they do. Do not put unnecessary pressure on your children. When visits are not possible, technology like Skype can help facilitate contact between family members during the holiday season.


“Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping,” Mayo Clinic, available at

Dr. Elaine Ducharme, “10 Tips for Managing Family Stress at Holidays,” American Psychological Association, available at

Contributed by: Kelly Thompson, Law Clerk

Friday, November 2, 2012

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True...

We’ve all seen or heard the commercials offering debt settlement to consumers. They are inundating our radios and televisions constantly. These schemes can be really appealing to someone deep in debt – especially with credit cards. They promise to settle all of your accounts and get you debt free quickly.

This just seems too good to be true, and with reason. According to the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, government officials estimate that about one in ten debt settlement cases fail. The Better Business Bureau was quoted as saying that debt settlement schemes are an “inherently problematic business.” The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs went on to say that debt settlement is “the single greatest consumer fraud of the year (1).” When a debt settlement case fails, it can leave you even further in debt with additional late charges or over limit fees on top of what you already owed.

If you choose to take the risky debt settlement road, there are a few things to watch for:
  • Do they encourage you to fall behind on your payments? 
  • Are they a for-profit businesses instead of a non-profit corporation? 
  • Do they charge high fees for their services? 
  • Are they offering you debt settlement for pennies on the dollar? 
  • Have they said that they can remove negative things from your credit report? 
  • How is their rating with the Better Business Bureau and your Attorney General’s Office? 

Paying attention to these things can help keep you out of the debt settlement trap. It can help you differentiate a settlement company that is a scheme versus a legitimate company that may be able to help your finances (1).

Getting out of debt, no matter which method you choose, can take a lot of time, effort, and dedication. You can’t expect for a settlement company to get you out of debt quickly and save you tons of money. You need to do some research and consider all of your available options. Research the consumer information on the FTC’s website ( (2). Talk to an attorney about Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or consider paying off the debt yourself using Chapter 13 bankruptcy or techniques like the snow ball method or by paying more than the minimum payment each month.

“The Debt Settlement Trap: The #1 Threat Facing Deeply Indebted Americans.” National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys Consumer Alert. October 2012. 30 October 2012. <>.

Federal Trade Commission. 30 October 2012. <>.

Contributed by: Kelley Snyder, Paralegal