Mitigating Holiday Stress

Safety Matters – Mitigating Holiday Stressholiday

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. And that stress is nothing to ho, ho, ho about, either. It increases your risk of illness and even 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. The holiday season presents a range of demands including shopping, cooking, attending events, and entertaining, to name just a few. As we hurry ourselves to finish everything in time, these demands can take an emotional toll. Holiday stress can then overflow into other areas of our life, including work. Follow these tips to mitigate holiday induced stress this year.

  • Start with gratitude. Many studies indicate how the feeling of gratitude can offset negative emotions. Throughout the season, recall what you are grateful for and reflect that you probably have more resources than the majority of the world’s population on any given day of the year.
  • Set a budget. Overspending in December can create feelings of regret and stress come January. Do not start the New Year with credit card debt. Set a budget, and stick to it!  Lick overspending. It takes an average of four months for a credit card user to pay off stress-inducing holiday bills, according to a 1999 report by the American Bankers Association. Instead try this: Decide how much you can afford to spend for each person on your list, then put that amount in cash in an envelope with that person's name on it. When the envelope is empty, you're done - no exceptions. Or freeze your credit cards in a jug of water, or mail them to a friend until the holidays are history. "The more you can inject a sense of humor and make it a game, the easier it'll be to live within your means.''

 

  • Share tasks. Do not try to be the perfect host. Ask others for help, so you can enjoy social time with friends and family. Guests can contribute their favorite dish or help you clean up afterwards.
  • Make a list. Worried that you will forget to do something this holiday season? De-clutter your mind by creating a list of tasks that need to be accomplished before the big party or anytime during the holidays.

 

  • It’s okay to say no. There can be an exorbitant number of events during the holidays, and it’s okay to be selective choosing your holiday outings. Saying “no” will prevent you from over-committing to events that backlog your to-do-list or cause you to hurry from one event to next. Think quality, not quantity.
  • Exercise, sleep, and nutrition. Help your body fight stress with daily exercise and adequate rest. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of water has been shown to reduce the hormone responsible for stress. Carbo-charge your body. It's 4 p.m. on Dec. 23, and you're stuck in an interminable line at the post office. It's time for a snack, but not just any snack. Experts say the secret is choosing carbohydrates with low or no fat -- maybe a handful of pretzels or, if you crave something sweet, a few Tootsie Rolls or jellybeans. "At least 30 grams' worth -- look at package labels to get amounts.''  Research shows such carbohydrates boost the powerful brain chemical serotonin, which helps the body feel calmer. Curiously, one snack to avoid at such times is fruit: fructose is the only carbohydrate that appears not to stimulate serotonin.  Eat mini-meals. When you eat stress-reducing foods, the effects last only about two to three hours. If you're up against chronic holiday stress, try eating several small meals or snacks throughout the day instead of a couple of big ones. Just be careful to keep your total intake of calories about the same.
  • Find support. The holidays can stir emotions that may be difficult to handle on your own. A counselor, physician, or clergy can provide advice to help. Most employers also offer Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) which offer free counseling services to employees and immediate family members. Ask your human resources professional for additional information. Don't go it alone. While the notion of holiday stress conjures up visions of jam-packed mall parking lots and tense dinners with the in-laws, many people suffer stress because they face the holidays by themselves. Experts advise getting proactive by connecting with family, friends, even others who face similar isolation.
  • Treat yourself. All that hustling and bustling can drain you. Experts suggest that for every 10 presents you buy for others, you select a little indulgence for yourself. "I might go with a little Godiva truffle or a Dave Barry calendar -- nothing expensive, just a little pick-me-up.'' Examples include regular exercise and making time for a movie date with your partner, a soak in a hot tub, or a solitary evening of soothing music.
  • Ratchet down stress by lowering expectations. Remember, those Norman Rockwell families are strictly two-dimensional -- don't expect them to bear much resemblance to your own family gatherings. "For people living at the other end of the country, this is often one of the few or only times of the year to see some people of great significance.'' The result: "this stressful pressure to cram all this emotion and bonding and intimacy into a very hectic few days.'' Expect some irritations and imperfections, then relax and have a good time in spite of them.
  • Remember the reason for the season. Some people find the holiday season stressful because it seems robbed of its authentic meaning. Instead they are awash in a culture conspiring to crassly cash in on something that once had great personal significance. The antidote, "Take the time and effort to reaffirm what this season really means to you, whether it is about family, community, religion. Go help someone in need, to help yourself reaffirm what it is all about.''

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