MIND/BODY HEALTH: MANAGING HOLIDAY STRESS
The holidays can be a stressful time for many people due to the intensified focus on family, work, and money, but this added stress is felt more by women. In a recent survey on holiday stress, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that women are more likely than men to report heightened stress levels during the holiday season and that they’re less likely to take time to relax or manage that stress in healthy ways.
Research shows that stress, and the unhealthy behaviors people use to manage it, contribute to some of our country’s biggest health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. So it’s imperative that people take steps to address issues like holiday stress in healthier ways. According to psychologist and APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Dr. Russ Newman, people who manage stress by engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as overeating, drinking and smoking are likely to have their physical health negatively affected over time, as opposed to people with a healthy lifestyle.
“My advice is to pay attention to what causes stress and to find healthy ways to manage it,'” says Newman. Everyone responds to their stress in some way. The key is handling stress in a manner that doesn’t make things worse.
APA recommends these tips to help deal with holiday stressors and build resilience:
Define holiday stress – How do you experience stress? Does that experience change during the holidays? Different people experience stress differently. How do you know when you are stressed?
Identify holiday stressors – What holiday events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to work, home, relationships or something else?
Recognize how you deal with stress – Determine if you are relying on unhealthy behaviors like smoking or eating to manage stress. Is this a behavior you rely on year-round, or is it specific to holiday stress?
Change one behavior at a time – Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time. Replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time. Start small and focus on changing one behavior.
Take care of yourself – Taking care of yourself during the holiday season helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with stress. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in holiday activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Eat healthily. Make sure you get enough rest and sleep.
Ask for support – Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens your resilience and ability to manage stress. Use the holidays as a time to reconnect with friends and family and strengthen your support network. If you feel overwhelmed by stress, then consider seeking professional help. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies to help you manage stress, change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues.
The American Psychological Association
Awaken from Holiday Amnesia
~ Deborah Sandella
Holiday amnesia. It’s a self-induced condition appearing around the holidays. You know: the lapse into unconscious doing, buying, and trying to have everything perfect! My expectations soar, along with my credit cards bills, and my to-do lists multiply lie guppies. On Christmas morning, I wake up exhausted and resolve to do it differently next year.
Holiday amnesia is a seasonal forgetting. First of all, I forgot the insights gleaned from last year’s experience, and I feel compelled to do it all. Secondly, I forgot who I am, what I’m doing, and to whom I’m talking because I’m preoccupied with thinking, organizing, and executing every detail.
The funny thing about amnesia is that you don’t remember you’re forgetting, like being unaware you are dreaming in the middle of a nightmare. You wake up and know you were asleep. The quicker we recognize unconsciousness or mindlessness, the quicker the return of consciousness or mindfulness.
Pointers for a Playful and Peaceful Holiday
- Pace Yourself – Have you noticed how our expectations roar out of control around the holidays? We wish for everything perfect, everything beautiful, and everything on our long, long list to be done? This year instead of sprinting like a marathon runner doing it all, all by yourself, choose differently. Just for fun, as best as you can, slow down, pace yourself, and let the season become a meditation on “play.” Keep focused on the present moment and what’s right in front of you. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover how your to-do list gets done in magical, serendipitous ways, or if your list doesn’t get done – how it really doesn’t matter.
- Presence Rather Than Presents – It’s easy to get preoccupied with shopping, cleaning, cooking, wrapping, and doing – we become “absent-minded.” Regardless of the tasks in which you are engaged, take a deep breath, relax, and imagine breathing through your belly button as a way of becoming aware of your self. Constantly bringing yourself back to this state of being present, you give your attention or “presence,” rather than “presents,” to those around yours. You’ll notice ordinary moments transform into heartfelt connections who memory endures long beyond the season. Miraculously, being present slows you down, and suddenly you have all the time in the world. Don’t be surprised if the holiday gathering, in which you didn’t have time to do whatever it was you wanted to do, becomes a peak experience as you release any concern or apology and focus on being in the moment – being yourself and enjoying those around you.
- Pause To Receive – When we get preoccupied with giving, there’s little time for receiving. This season, take time to sense the beauty all around – bright and colorful light displays, soft, flickering candlelight, sweet, yummy candies and cookies, and excited children poised on the mall Santa’s knee. Pause often to notice the natural beauty, free from the receiving. This time of year sometimes up sadness over not having our expectations met. Memories from unhappy holidays of the past or thinking about unfulfilled dreams can stimulate a sense of holiday blues. Again, the best thing to do is to pause and receive these feelings – they are merely transient emotions passing through. They are not you-you are divine! Sometimes they stay for a minute, sometimes an hour, maybe even days, but they always leave eventually, and your heart is once again yours, that place where you’re at home with yourself. Take five minutes to write your feelings, releasing any need to edit or hold back. It’s like emptying unpleasant feelings onto the accepting blank page, so you no longer hold them in your head. It works great!
- Personal Time – Squeeze in some personal time every day. You’ll feel energized and focused. Your brain and your body will be centered, and you’ll get more done in a more timely way. You’ll avoid unnecessary mistakes that waste your precious time. Learn from Gandhi, who is rumored to have said, “I have so much to do today, I must meditate two hours instead of one. It’s amazing how a brief walk, five minutes in yourself twice a day will do wonders in doubling your time and energy.
- Permission To Ask For Help – Give yourself permission to ask for help, whether it’s asking your spouse to pick up some gifts, your children to pick up the house, or your friends to look beyond the messy kitchen. Yes, so many of us have high expectations for our selves, and only ask for help as a last resort. This year, slide “asking for help” to one of the top three items on your list – ask your family and friends to be part of a team that creates a shared experience from beginning to clean up.
May this holiday season find loving yourself, your family, your home, your cooking, and your gifts just the way you – and they are.