She has advice to head off holiday tailspin

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 3, 2011 - 7:22 PM

Kristen Brown

The season of merriment is upon us, and for many that means the old familiar daily stresses are replaced with new, seasonal stresses. Some float happily along through the month, but others pile on the obligations until they're a twitchy wreck, wondering how they'll get everything done.

That's where our My Minnesota subject steps in: She's Kristen Brown, a stress-management consultant who helps people sort out the pressures of life.

She might have ended up doing something else, but when her 30-year-old husband died of a heart attack in his sleep in 2007, leaving her with an infant daughter, she plowed ahead, wrote a book -- "The Best Worst Thing" - and started the Happy Hour Effect (www.HappyHour Effect.com) to help others.

Yes, you want stress, try starting a business in this economy. But trying times aren't exactly new. Wasn't life back in the old days much more stressful? Do we just think we have it worse because we're here now and lack historical perspective?

"Actually," Brown says, "I think we're more stressed today. We have the pressures of technology that force us into the instant-communication mindset, fast food that forces us into the speedy lifestyle. We want to go fast in the winter but we can't because the roads are bad."

But don't we bring that on ourselves? Isn't it a sign of affluence to be stressed over your cellphone, as opposed to dealing with crop failures, blizzards on the farm, diphtheria, Spanish flu ... ?

"Yes. So many people are causing their own drama. It can be a good thing to stay connected, but one of the things I advise is to cut down on the technology. When you're looking at your phone every five minutes, it takes time away from the people you live with."

Assuming they haven't left you because you're checking your phone all the time, what's the most stressful thing about Minnesota?

"It's got to be the winter!" Everyone says that. Except maybe people working on the Vikings stadium. But it's true. "We have a six-month stretch of gloom and dark. Our vitamin levels are down. We're stuck inside."

But surely there's another side -- something unique to Minnesota that drains off the tension?

"We've got 10,000 lakes. There's scientific evidence that when people are around water, their brain waves and body chemistry changes -- we have that built right in here. It's almost like free water therapy, spring, summer and fall. And in the winter, hey, go out there and do some ice fishing."

Well, not everyone can run to the lake and hack at the ice when they're in a holiday tailspin; what's the most immediate thing one can do to reduce holiday stress -- besides a Ben & Jerry's the size of a goldfish bowl?

"You have to have a plan. If you wing it and 20 days before the holidays you're putting your plan together, you'll be out of control and you'll stress."

Well, it's 21 days until Christmas. There's still time ...

(Find more advice at www.KristenKBrown.com.)

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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