The holidays really are the best of times and the worst of times. Our tidings of comfort and joy can so easily be devoured by the insatiable stress to do it all, be it all, and buy it all. Despite its devastating consequences, stress is often something that is overlooked and ignored, especially during the holiday season. Stress not only increases your risk of illness and can even increase the risk of death. One study, published in the Oct. 12, 1999, issue of the journal Circulation, suggested holiday stress and overindulgence help explain the soaring rate of fatal heart attacks in December and January.
Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.
Here are some quick tips to help you beat holiday stress:
- Think positive. The holidays may drive you to your breaking point, but don’t focus on the bad. Negative thinking can trigger the your body’s stress response, just as a real threat does. Remember, it’s time to celebrate with your family and friends (even if they do stress you out!). An optimistic outlook will help you cope with challenges that come your way.
- Soak up the sun. Make it a point to get a daily dose of sunlight exposure. Sunlight stimulates the production of the “feel-good” chemical serotonin. Daily sunlight exposure has also been proved to help improve symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects millions of Americans every year. To ease SAD symptoms, spend time outdoors or near a window on sunny days, or ask your doc about phototherapy (a treatment using a box that emits full-spectrum light).
- Add pressure (in the right way). The fleshy place between your index finger and thumb is called the hoku spot in traditional Chinese medicine. Applying firm pressure there for just 30 seconds can reduce stress and tension in your upper body. So if you start to feel overwhelmed by the holiday chaos, give your hand a squeeze and take a deep breathe.
- Go for real foods. Inevitably, at this time of year, you’ll be tempted with sugary, empty-calorie “treats” just about wherever you go. But to be your most energetic, focused and happy self, it’s best to eat foods that grow on trees or on the ground (vegetables and fruits) and to choose healthy fats (such as olive oil and flax seeds), lean protein (such as fish and organic chicken) and legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Forget perfection. Stop obsessing over doing it all. The world is not going to end if the house is a little cluttered or dinner is not on the table when you want it to be. Focus your energy on enjoying the people and things you have in your life, and don’t sweat the small things. Focusing on what you have, rather than on what you don’t, will make your holiday will be much more enjoyable!
- Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. In fact, overspending Financial stress is often at the tops of peoples.
- Treat yourself. All that hustling and bustling can drain you. For every 10 presents you buy for others, try selecting a little indulgence for yourself. Maybe get a little Godiva truffle or a Dave Barry calendar — nothing expensive, just a little pick-me-up. Also, try things like engaging in regular exercise, making time for a movie date with your partner, soaking in a hot tub, or a solitary evening of soothing music. Self-care leads to self-preservation.
- Dip into some honey. You’ll get an instant kick and energy for the long haul. Plus, research shows that its antioxidant and antibacterial properties may improve your immunity. Here’s a tip: The darker the honey, the more powerful the antioxidant punch.
- Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
- Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
- Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time
- Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
- Pick Your Battles. Being in close quarters with some of your family members for long periods of time can be stressful in itself. You all have your own personalities. Because of your differences, it may be easy to rub each other the wrong way. Remember that if you let every remark get under your skin, you’ll be miserable and stressed out the entire time. Set aside your differences, and agree to disagree. This is easier said than done. But if you can learn how to let go and pick your battles, you’ll have less anxiety. Don’t let the actions of others rob you of your joy.
- Practice mindfulness. Instead of getting caught up in everything you need to check off your list, take a few moments to focus on what you’re doing right now. Multiple studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can help with stress and anxiety. Fortunately, it’s easy to incorporate into your daily life.
- Seek professional help. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, don’t hesitate to contact Capital EAP and ask to schedule an appointment with one of our many trained counselors.
Even if you’re a calm and collected person, the holiday season can still be a trying time. Your stress level can still skyrocket. These practical tips may minimize your stress and help you cope. However, don’t be afraid to speak with a doctor or mental health professional if you’re having a difficult time. They may help you improve your coping skills so you can get through the holiday season with a smile on your face.
-Amanda Keller, LCSW