What's a good holiday stress-buster?

Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics
Tips to relieve stress during the holidays:
  • Stay organized.
  • Plan meals, snacks, decorations, gifts, etc.
  • Get help -- take short cuts when able.
  • Enjoy regular meals and snacks to keep your energy level.
  • Ensure adequate sleep/rest.
  • Recognize that the emphasis and focus should be on spending quality time with family/friends.
  • Things may not go as planned but be kind to yourself and others, breathe, count your blessings, be productive yet calm, and enjoy this special time.
The holidays can be a time of joy and celebration, but they are also a potential source of stress. You may feel there is too much to do in too little time. The holidays can also be a period of loneliness for some people.

Stress isn’t just an annoyance, however. It is important over the holidays that you take the time to read the signals your body is sending you. Stress is a serious concern, and it appears to be a risk factor for heart disease.

Researchers don’t know exactly how stress contributes to heart disease -- this is partly because it’s hard to measure stress and because people react differently to it. But it is also because it is not easy to determine whether stress is a risk factor itself for heart disease, or if it negatively affects other risk factors for heart disease, such as blood pressure, cholesterol or lifestyle behaviors.

Try these stress busters over the holidays. Techniques such as this may help you lower your long-term risk of heart disease.
  • Diet. It can be all too easy to cope with holiday stress by indulging in readily available high-fat and/or high-sugar foods. If you stick with a heart-healthy diet, you will be better able to manage stress.
  • Exercise. You may feel too busy to exercise during the holidays, but sticking with regular exercise is an effective holiday stress buster.
  • Muscular relaxation. Try stretching, yoga or Pilates.
  • A quiet environment. Taking time alone during the holidays can be important. Go for a walk, or listen to soft, soothing music.
  • A passive attitude. Try to let go and cultivate an easygoing and positive -- not quick to anger -- attitude.
  • Deep breathing. Some people pair deep breathing with the repetition of a word or phrase.
  • Skills training. A qualified professional such as a therapist can help you learn to identify and reduce your stressors.
Darren Treasure, PhD
Sports Medicine
The first and most important step in relieving stress through the holidays is to recognize and understand the triggers that actually cause these feelings in the first place. In this way you can be proactive in dealing with them before they get the better of you. For example, your trigger might be spending too much time with certain family members or, alternatively, feeling isolated and alone. Poor choices such as over eating, drinking too much, trying to do too much, not exercising enough are common stress triggers during the holidays. Overspending or feeling guilty for not being able to spend at past levels are also triggers. With a little planning and a positive mindset, however, there is no reason why the stress that normally accompanies the holidays will at least be manageable. Who knows, you may end up enjoying the season more than you ever thought. Here are five practical tips:
  1. Plan ahead. A little planning may reduce many of the triggers that cause stress. Budget your time and your finances before you accept invitations and start to spend money on gifts and entertainment. Part of the planning process should involve creating a list of priorities and learning to Just Say No to items that are not a high priority. 
  2. Be realistic. A major cause of stress around the holidays is unrealistic or unmet expectations. It is unrealistic to expect the holidays to be perfect, families to get along without disputes, you to not occasionally indulge in over eating or drinking, or those closest to you to not drive you nuts! The more accepting you are going into the holidays the happier and less stressed you are likely to be. 
  3. Find time for yourself. Continue to exercise and make good choices about other important health related behaviors such as sleep and nutrition. Try to find a few minutes every day when you can step away, either physically or mentally, from all the craziness.
  4. Understand your feelings. The holidays can be a very emotional time particularly if you have lost a loved one or have experienced lose or disappointments of any kind. It is normal to feel sad and to cry.    
  5. Recognize the need to feel connected. If you feel lonely or isolated seek out individuals and agencies that will happily provide companionship and support.
Irwin Isaacs
Exercise is an excellent way to deal with stress. It need not be heavy duty weight lifting. It can be walking, yoga, stretching, etc. If you choose exercise you should put it on your schedule, at least three or four times a week.

Other stress busters are meditation and deep breathing. Meditation helps your mind to focus inwardly, leading to a pleasant relaxed state that can be very refreshing.

Deep breathing helps to flood all the cells of your body with extra oxygen, leading to an improved sense of well-being.

But most of all you need to remind yourself that emotional stress invariably stems from how you allow yourself to experience what is taking place around you. Resolve to see as much as possible in your life experience from a positive point of view.
Proven stress busters: Get plenty of sleep. Schedule time for exercise each day. Make healthy food choices. Build a good social support network of friends, family and coworkers. Create peaceful times in your day. Don't smoke. Don't drink too much or abuse other substances.
Richard Walsh
Social Work
Managing your expectations can help. Accepting that you can only be effective in areas that are in your control and focus your attention and actions there. Maintaining a sense of balance in your approach to the holidays is essential. Each of us is different so for some taking time to pamper or nurture oneself is important. For others some physical activity like walking or other exercise can be of help. Plan for the worst hope for the best and likely your experience this holiday season will show up somewhere in the middle. I find that life never quite lives up to my anxieties!
Robert Rozsay
Addiction Medicine
The way to a minimally stressed holiday season is planning. Plan your time and money. Do not over extend yourself. The next step is patience. Realize that something will go wrong and you will not be able to fix it. Finally theirs acceptance they are who they are so let them be and enjoy the holidays yourself.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.