The holidays are that time of the year when people feel even more stressed than they usually do and while this time of year is celebrated by most for joy, togetherness and thankfulness, not everyone is able to greet the season with the same sense of happiness. In part, that’s because, during the holidays, people tend to experience heightened emotions. The shopping and crowds. The back-to-back diet-busting parties. The interminable chats with the in-laws. We understand how easy it is to feel not so wonderful at this most wonderful time of the year.
You may feel overcome by loneliness, become annoyed by meddling relatives or lose patience with your loved ones. And in the present economy, you also may be worried about how you’ll be able to pay for good gifts without maxing out your credit cards. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that nearly half of all women in the United States experience heightened stress during the holidays, which puts their health at risk. The APA also learned that during this time, 41 percent of women use food and 28 percent use alcohol.
That’s why it’s important to remember self-care throughout this time. Below is a list to give you some ideas for how you can help manage stress this holiday season.
Try to avoid predictable “hot button” conversations
These conversation such as political debates or classic old family disputes are usually predictable, so it pays to take time before the holidays, when you are feeling calm, to think back to previous, similar situations, and to plan how you’ll respond if you are cornered into conversations that tend to make you sad, mad, or frustrated enough to turn to food for comfort.
Get moving & exercise
During this time of year, people often resort to bad habits; they may cave into sugar cravings, go for the booze and overdose on caffeine. Perhaps one of the best ways to overcome stress during the holidays or any other time is to exercise regularly. Try to get a family member or someone else from the holiday table to take a long walk with you after dinner, or even before and after the meal. Research shows that physical activity not boosts your fitness and energy levels but can also elevate your moods. In addition, exercise has been found to reduce tension and fatigue. Despite the many demands on your time, this is not the season to stop exercising. Indeed, when regular exercisers are inactive, they begin to feel depressed and fatigued after just one week, according to a study from scientists at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
Welcome some sunlight
Go out more even if it gets a little cold. It stimulates the production of feel-good serotonin and also helps relieve seasonal affective disorder, which impacts millions of Americans every year, says Judith Orloff, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. 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).
How can you not eat food that looks, smells, and tastes so good? The truth is, you should allow yourself to eat, while at the same time taking a few precautions against extreme overeating. Some people make the mistake of not eating on the day of a holiday meal or party, in anticipation of eating a lot at the evening celebration. That’s actually the worst strategy because, in the end, not eating can backfire and you may end up eating more than you would have because you arrive at the table famished. It’s better to have a couple of light meals earlier in the day—yogurt with fruit, salad with chicken, and, of course, plenty of water—and enjoy normal serving sizes of your favorite holiday foods at the big meal. At the meal, take small portions of everything you like, eat slowly, and finish everything on your plate before you consider second helpings of anything. Eating slowly allows time for your brain to get the signal from your stomach that it’s full, and when you feel full, you’re better able to resist second helpings.
One of the best ways to stay calm, content and cheerful this time of year is to act generously with your loved ones, coworkers and friends. This doesn’t have to mean you’re spending a lot of money. You can be generous with your compliments. You can generously offer to do a loved one’s dreaded errand. You can generously write a fun, short poem. When you are creative with your gifts and thank you’s, people will appreciate your real, heartfelt sentiments.
Ask for help
If you’re the appointed gift buyer but simply can’t get all your chores done this year, ask for help. You don’t have to be ashamed to need help when you are doing a gazillion things at the same time. You can have a family day setting the Christmas tree. Or you can get help wrapping gifts as well. If you don’t have a budget for it, you may want to plan ahead for some help when your 20,000 visitors descend on your home for that holiday dinner. Next year, you may want to put some money aside to get someone to help you with the preparations.
Finally remember what the holidays are truly about
While people always bemoan rushing around, spending money and having to tolerate their families, but if we think more deeply about this, this is really not what the holidays are about at all. The holidays are a time for authentic communities to come together and a time to remember values and the fact that you are not alone.