Holiday Stress Survival Kit

December 13, 2011

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It’s ironic, isn’t it? A season that’s meant to be a happy, wonderful time of celebration so often ends up being stress central.

A lot of holiday stress has to do with over-commitment. Most of us have pretty full plates to begin with. Throw a bunch of extra stuff in there…where is that extra time supposed to come from?

There’s little doubt that stress affects our health. It weakens our immune systems, triggers inflammation, messes with our sleep, causes all manner of physical symptoms…and just downright sucks.

But do the holidays have to be synonymous with stress? Not if you take steps to cope.

Here are my suggestions.

Take “Me Time”. Schedule some quiet time for yourself. If necessary, sneak away to do it. It doesn’t have to be an entire day of indulgence…sometimes just a 15-minute breather will do it. Don’t feel guilty about this! You are no good to anyone else if you are totally burned out.

Let go of the need to be perfect. Our expectations are ridiculous this time of year. You do not need to channel Martha. You do not need to throw the perfect party, complete with handmade decorations and home-canned preserves for every guest…a person can only do so much. Make sure you know your true priorities, then focus on those. Quality time with loved-ones is probably a healthier goal than hand-crocheted doilies. But maybe that’s my bias coming out. 

Have a strategy for healthy eating. Temptation is all over the place this season. Making good choices will help your energy level, your digestion, your sleep…and will also help you avoid the particular stress that occurs when struggling to zip up your pants. Of course…I also think you need to enjoy yourself. Lesley Beck, a prominent dietitian, has a terrific take on that. One of my strategies: be a total food snob. When there’s so much truly good food around, don’t waste calories on something that’s just ho-hum.

Exercise. Most people recognize that exercise is a big help with stress. But finding the time for said exercise? A cause of stress. Hm. Conundrum. My advice: nevermind if you can’t find the time for big workouts right now. Just squeeze little bits in here and there.

Just say no. Overcommitment will lead straight to overwhelm. Tune in to what you really need to do, and cut the fat on everything else. One way to do that? Check out Gretchen Rubin’s suggestion to think of yourself in the third person.

Re-frame the holidays. A quantum shift in perspective might be just what you need. Once upon a time, winter was a time of darkness, a time of seeking warmth and comfort and gathering indoors…not a time of nonstop cheer. It might help to respect the season, the darkness, and lower your expectations accordingly. Read Dr. Andrew Weil’s wonderful post on this aspect of our cultural history.  

Breathe. Quick and easy (thus fitting nicely into a packed schedule), breathing exercises are a wonderful stress-reliever. Here’s my primer on that.

Listen to music. And no, not holiday tunes. I love Christmas music, make no mistake, but…sometimes you need to take a break from the nonstop jingle-belling. Read this to see why music is medicine.

Shop online. I can’t stand Christmas shopping at the mall. The parking, the checkout lineups…and don’t even get me started on the food court. I avoid it at all costs. But I’m no Grinch. I love to shop, and I admit to going a little crazy on the gift front.The internet, and UPS, offers the perfect solution.  

Protect your sleep. A person needs to rest, there’s no way you can get through all the holiday festivities without it. Insufficient sleep makes you grumpy, irritable, and…wait for it: fat. (it’s true: lack of sleep increases your chances of becoming overweight). Do whatever it takes to keep a regular sleep schedule. Your body, and brain, will thank you.

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