Managing Stress Over The Holidays

Young woman in small room with christmas lights

Overeating, overspending, over-committing, overextending – for too many of us the holidays have become one big stress fest instead of the most wonderful time of the year.

According to the American Psychological Association, by Thanksgiving 69% of people are already stressed due to a “lack of money”, 68% are freaking out due to a “lack of time”, and 51% are tense because of the “pressure to give or get gifts.”

Stress is a significant health problem. Our bodies respond to stress much as they would respond to an imminent physical threat. Your brain prompts your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol that are useful in helping you to fight back against the threat or run away from it very quickly.

Our physical responses to stress worked great for our Neolithic ancestors, but are less than useful when the problem is financial demands or a packed mall. When stress hormones are released they increase your heart rate and boost your blood pressure. They crank up the sugars (glucose) in your bloodstream so that your brain can power-up. They also alter the physical responses that make it easier to survive an emergency: your digestive system is suppressed, your mood and motivation becomes focused fully on survival, and your immune system response is altered.

An overabundance of adrenaline in your system can cause you to grind your teeth, chipping and cracking them. It can also cause high blood pressure, angina, heart disease and heart attacks, stress headaches, upset stomach or heartburn, sore throats (due to dry mouth), and sleep disorders. Combined with Cortisol, your immune system can become less able to fight off common ailments such as sinus infections, colds and flu. As if all that wasn’t enough, many people try to cope with stress by indulging in unhealthy behaviors such as overeating, using alcohol or drugs.

Here are some better ways to relive holiday stress:

Don’t Compare: Your friend’s social feeds are packed with perky photos of their glittery social life and perfectly decorated homes. You feel like the Grinch. But remember, many people find the holidays difficult and breathe a big sigh of relief when January 2 rolls around. Don’t compare your life to the nicely curated versions of lives that you see on social media.

Choose Your Own Holiday Adventure: Holiday stress can be sparked by family or work obligations. Determine what activities really are non-negotiable, and figure out the best way to get through them with less stress.  But don’t let the season turn into a joyless round of obligations. If the old holiday traditions aren’t working, if they’re not making you happy and causing holiday stress, it’s time to do something different.

Find Meaning:  Think about what resonates for you at this time of year. You may want to celebrate the return of longer days at Winter Solstice, do volunteer work for a cherished cause, celebrate every second of the season in a big way or plan to cross the International Date line at the stroke of midnight on December 24 in order to skip Christmas altogether.  The point is to figure out what works for you, and do as much of it as possible.

Experiences, Not Things: Taking the time to do things with the people that we love is more likely to make everyone happier than a slew of gifts. Create a new holiday tradition, or reconnect with the experiences that made the holiday special for you in the past: children’s books, holiday shows, hot chocolate, baking cookies … whatever evokes that sense of magic.

Lower Your Expectations: “When we think about the holidays, we dwell on the past and what went wrong, or we romanticize it and make it impossible to re-create,” Ronald Nathan, PhD, clinical professor at Albany Medical College in New York, told WebMD.  Nathan counsels people to carefully examine their thoughts and expectations, and not drive themselves crazy finding “the perfect gift” or planning “the perfect party.”

“Instead,” he says, “lower your expectations, and overestimate — rather than underestimate — your time.”

Take a Breath: If you know that you are prone to getting particularly stressed out around the holidays, research some coping techniques now. The American Institute of Stress suggests “focused” deep breathing as the single “Super Stress Buster” that works for everyone.

Stay Healthy: Get the sleep, healthy food and exercise that you need to feel good. The better you feel physically, the more likely you are to be able to cope with increased stress around the holidays. If you’re struggling with depression, reach out and get support if you need it.

And if you’re skipping necessary medical care in order to cover holiday bills, consider a healthcare savings plan. These plans include free consultations with local doctors who can diagnose and treat common ailments over the phone or via Internet chat. Some plans include free or deeply discounted access to counselors, fitness clubs, and stress-relief experts. Find out more about the healthcare savings plans available through :Dental Plans.

 

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