No matter what your traditions, along with the rich offerings of joy during this season – comes the potential of added stress jingling all the way. According to a poll by the American Psychological Association while the holidays polled, first and foremost, as a joyful time – a whopping 90% Americans reported they do feel added stress during the holidays with nearly a quarter reporting they feel “extreme stress.”
The good news is that there are a number of ways we can take charge – steer away from holiday madness and manage the stress that can often present itself at the holidays. Here are some healthy ways to relieve holiday pressure and maintain your balance with more “comfort and joy:”
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: To Step Away from Holiday Madness and Maintain The Joys of the Season
Planning is key. Time is our most precious commodity and we must use it wisely. Before we get submerged and possibly overwhelmed with the holidays, let’s start by creating a “to-do” list and calendar. Writing things down can help to manage the myriad of activities and responsibilities from shopping, gift wrapping, decorating, volunteering, and office and family parties. And keep the list and calendar out in the open to help you and yours track the events.
You can help decrease circuit overload by setting realistic goals and maintaining balance and creating boundaries. Be discriminating and rank things-to-do by “has to,” “nice to,” or “does not need to” be done. Don’t stress if you do not get past what “has to” be done. And too, “a must” is to set some time to enjoy relaxing during this holiday.
Bah-humbug (toxic tales) and dealing with changes. For some, the holiday festivities can evoke sad or painful memories and feelings of separation or even from the death of a loved one, a divorce, end of a relationship, or other challenges such as health problems. For others, there may be complicated family dynamics or hurtful memories. And too, holiday gatherings may put us with some people we prefer to avoid throughout the year.
When faced with these challenges, the key is to be conscious about what you are doing. Some tips from experts include:
- Consider letting go of old customs and making new memories, such as planning a trip away or aspects of how you plan to celebrate
- Before a family gathering, remember the power of extending olive branches; to pace yourself (you may not have to stay for 4 hours or all 3 days); and too, the courage to maintain safe boundaries for a healthy celebration
- In some cases, it may be necessary to accept that you will not be able to resolve any big underlying issues now (it is beneficial to remember others may be having a particularly stressful time)
- And, too, it is okay to cry or take time to retreat to help renew
Power down and unplug. We all love technology. It’s stimulating—and, yes, the advances have improved our lives for the better. But research has shown that the perpetual beeps, dings, and screen time can elevate stress hormones as well as cause sleep disturbances. And, too, it can interfere with living life—connecting with others, enjoying the moment. During the holiday season, take active efforts to turn off these gadgets—both adults and children—and celebrate those precious times with family and loved ones.
Seasonal affective disorder. As the days grow shorter and darkness hits earlier, nearly 10 million Americans may experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and another 25 million may experience a milder form known as the “winter blues.” While the mechanism is not completely understood, the decrease in sunlight can affect our mood—sadness, irritability, decreased energy levels, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping.
To ease SAD symptoms, spend time outdoors or near a window on sunny days, or ask your doctor about phototherapy (a treatment using a box that emits full-spectrum light).
Stick to a budget. Between gifts for our loved ones, co-workers, teachers, and others—and let’s not forget hosting holiday parties, traveling, and decorations—it is easy to deplete our bank accounts and max out our credit cards. And this can create stress that will continue into the new year. Research shows the best way to manage holiday spending is by creating a budget and staying committed to it. When it comes to shopping for presents, think outside the “gift” box. The best presents are not the most expensive, but the most thoughtful.
Stay Active. Don’t wait for the New Year to make this part of your “need to-do” list. Start now. The physical benefits of exercise to our heart, immune function, and other organs are undeniable. Exercise is also a great weapon against stress. Physical activity boosts endorphin production—molecules in our body that elevate our mood, dissipate anxiety, improve sleep, and function as natural painkillers. And for those who feel they cannot start an exercise regimen at this time, studies have shown that just five minutes (300 seconds) of aerobic exercise can have anti-anxiety effects.
Bolster Lowered Defenses. During the holiday season, you’re more likely to get run down by increased obligations, more errands – and overall more output. Add to this, it’s cold and flu season and your immune system is under assault. It’s important that you keep your defense system high by eating healthy, getting good sleep and staying hydrated – and keeping your hands washed (there are more germs out there too during the holidays).
Remember, You Can Step Away from the Holiday Madness: TAKE A BREAK!! (Reread this one several times so you have it !!) There is a lot pressure to do this and respond to that – and too, often with the idealized notions of sugar plum, perfect holidays dancing in our heads. Stop the madness. Stop the illusions and crazy, demanding output. Take a break; pace yourself. . .your health and wellbeing matter!! Do the best you can…including reframing to enjoy your moments. And remember, you are not responsible for everyone’s happiness – they need to make that choice in the moment for themselves. And too after you take a break, if needed ask for help.
Identify What Brings Joy to You During the Holidays – and enjoy it!! Seriously, take time and identify what it is you love about the holidays (hosting friends, music, decorating, special times with family, baking, reflective time, etc.). And then, plan time enjoying what you love. Also, as we step into this year’s holiday season, let’s add to the heart of our planning… to appreciate the moments. We live in an age of distractions with demanding deadlines – and even more so during the holidays with added commitments – but life still unfolds in the present. And it is in the “now” that we can maintain balance, manage realistic goals, and find added joys.
I recently read a wise statement that one of life’s sharpest paradoxes is that our brightest future hinges on our ability to pay attention to the present. Be mindful to step away from the holiday madness that tries to steel your joy. My hope for you is that some of these tips will help you enjoy the present. Bill Keane crafted the beloved truth that is shared within many treasured sentiments, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.” So from my home to yours…sending treasured sentiments – with bah-humbugs to stress! Enjoy your holidays. Savor your “presents.”
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.