Jim Olsztynski offers up some simple stress-relieving tips to help you make it through the taxing holiday season.

The winter blues is a very real problem for about 10 million people a year.
Well drilling ranks pretty high up the list of stressful occupations. You folks have to juggle many balls at once, any one of which may explode if dropped. Broken bits, malfunctioning rigs and other technical problems make people pull their hair out. Job bids keep many of you awake at night, and you're always at the mercy of things over which you have no control, such as worrying what to do if your market does a belly flop. No wonder many people in the trades work themselves into a frazzle to the point where they experience health problems, relationship problems or simply the inability to enjoy the fruit of their labor.

This is compounded during the winter holiday season, say all the experts. That's right, what should be a joyous time of year often has the opposite effect. It's due to the hectic pace of holiday activities, along with problematic family relationships. Suicides increase during the month of December, as do bouts of depression.

Couple all this with our national anxiety over terrorism and the war's impact on the economy. It wouldn't be surprising to find many folks on the verge of burning out.

If you're among them, here are some simple stress-relieving tips from the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, which operates the world-renowned Mayo Clinic.

1. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier at night.
Yeah, I know, easier said than done for busy people. Nonetheless, fatigue makes it that much harder to cope with stressful situations.

2. Read a good book.
The Mayo Foundation doesn't expand on this recommendation, but I would recommend avoiding books that are too closely related to work or of bleak subject matter.

3. Seek out positive people.
Birds of a feather flock together. Hang out with chronic whiners, and the world will seem a joyless, stressful place. Cheerful folks have a way of spreading that attitude.

4. Meditate or pray.
So you're not real religious. What do you have to lose!

5. Delay or delegate a non-critical work project.
Be realistic. Not everything you do is critical. Set priorities and focus your attention on only the top one or two items.

6. Do volunteer work for a favorite cause or charity.
Don't just write a check. Give something of yourself. I can think of no better way to start feeling better about yourself and your activities.

7. Go to a humorous or uplifting movie.
About a week after September's terrorist attacks, my wife and I went to see "Rat Race," a movie filled with slapstick humor. Movie critics didn't particularly like it, and some of it was downright stupid, but there were plenty of laughs to provide a couple of hours respite from all the gloom and doom. We walked out of the theater feeling happy for the first time in a week.

8. Write in a journal.
Focus on recording the best things that happen to you each day. Even on the worst days, if you look for positives, you'll find them.

9. Tackle unpleasant tasks early in the day and get them over with.
Otherwise, you'll spoil your day by thinking of what's ahead.

10. Eat properly and exercise regularly.
Exercise is a particularly good stress reliever.

11. Go with the flow.
Not every battle has to be won - or even fought. Give in on issues that are relatively trivial to you. Some things are not worth arguing about, and only the most important things are worth going to war over.

12. Deal with only one thing at a time.
I have trouble with this one. Often I find myself trying to talk on the phone and read at the same time. If you have the same problem or similar ones, join me in resolving to heed this advice.

13. Ask help from a partner, friend or co-worker when you feel overwhelmed.
As they say, "Pride goeth before the fall."

14. Create a change of pace.
Make no plans for an entire day. Maybe work from home that day.

15. Be realistic about how much you can accomplish.
You may be asking too much of yourself.

A Little Perspective

Finally, I'd like to add a little advice of my own. A stress management technique that works for me is simply to pause and put things in perspective.

Personally, I've never bought into all the hype about the business world being particularly stressful. A certain amount of stress goes with the territory if you are to succeed in any walk of life. The more competitive the business, the more stressful you'll find the work, but the financial and personal rewards ought to be a worthwhile tradeoff.

To me, the most stressful life is one without job satisfaction, and without enough money to support your dependents in a reasonably comfortable manner. If this describes you, maybe you need to look for another line of work. But if you like what you're doing and making a decent living at it, take comfort in that. Too many people are out of work for me to feel sorry for myself because of deadlines and other pressures attending my chosen profession.

This is the time of year to gain satisfaction from spiritual thoughts, and to give thanks for the good life that the vast majority of us are fortunate to lead.

Sidebar: A Time Management Quiz

A lot of stress results from an inability to properly manage time. Some people put in 12-hour days when they could get everything done in eight or nine if they learned to manage time, rather than let time manage them.

Here's a little quiz I picked up on the Internet from the Tufts University Department of Human Resources. Answer "yes" or "no" to the following statements, then check at the end how you performed.

1. I spend much of my time responding to crises and putting out fires.
2. I can't find time to prioritize.
3. I feel guilty or anxious leaving work early or "on time."
4. I can't find enough time and energy to devote to family, friends and recreational activities.
5. Even when "off duty," I find it difficult to quit thinking about work.
6. I often find myself caught up in busy work or trivia.
7. I don't have time for association, community or professional activities.
8. My old dreams have given way to simply "keeping my head above water."
9. I have trouble finding a time management system that works for me.
10. The same few problems or people take up a large chunk of my time.

Responding "yes" to even two of these statements indicates a problem with time management. You need to work on it.