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Managing the Stress of the Holidays

Val & Present 2

Stress is something that seems to go hand in hand with the Holiday season. Stress during the Holidays comes in different forms, from the stress of finding the” perfect” gift to the stress of having to entertain family. Some of this stress is good stress (Eustress), and some is bad stress (Distress). Believe it or not there are differences between these two kinds of stress, each causes different responses in the body. Good stress is a form of stress that helps us to adapt to everyday changes. It helps us feel motivated and want to engage. Bad stress causes us to lose the ability to function in those everyday tasks. When there is too much bad stress our bodies can begin to break down. We may get headaches more often, gastrointestinal problems, muscle pains, perspiration, and depression-like symptoms (lack of energy, tiredness, etc.). Sometimes the stress of the Holidays adds to our chronic stress and causes a negative effect on our bodies. As a therapeutic clinic, we want to bring awareness of ways that we can each bring about stress reduction during this holiday season.

So, what are some ways we can de-stress amidst all the Holiday excitement?

  • First, take a time-out. Time-outs are not just for kids; they are very beneficial for adults as well. It is important to take some time for yourself this season. We recommend taking at least 10-15 minutes of alone time to re-focus and to restore your functioning. Have you ever noticed that when you get very stressed, things around you might start falling apart, and the more you continue to stress about those things, the more they continue to get worse? This is due to the affect that stress has on our bodies; it causes our level of functioning to slow down. When we take 10-15 minutes to focus on our body and mind, we are able to bring awareness back to the present rather than all that we need to accomplish. During this time you should focus on what sensations are happening in your body (your breathing, any pain or discomfort), how you are feeling, if your mind wanders to your To Do List, then just gently remind yourself to focus on those items.
  • Second, keep parts of our daily routine. When family comes into town, our schedules are often changed in order to entertain them, but another way to reduce stress is to try to fit in at least one thing out of your daily routine. If that includes going to the gym, try to fit in at least 15 minutes of gym time while family is here. If that includes weekly lunches with your best friend, make time for a check-in with that friend. Another important thing to try this season is to think about all the things in life for which you are thankful. This could include spending a few minutes remembering traditions that your family shares during the Holidays or just making a list of the wonderful things in your life. This helps remind us of the things in life that make us happy, even in the midst of stress. This can also include giving gifts to others that will genuinely make them happy, which in turn makes you happy.
  • Third, watch your intake of food. The Holidays are full of food with friends and family constantly supplying you with more. This is a time when we can feel pressured to eat the food that comes to our house, and if we don’t feel pressured, we feel sluggish after eating all that decadent food. Our healthy eating goes out the window and our exercise right along with it. Make sure to increase your water intake and don’t skip meals. Skipping these two items can increase our stress levels. During the Holidays it is hard to make it to the gym, but making some time to go for a walk or even parking farther away at the store will give you some relief from the stress.

Other tools that have proven effective include, writing in a journal, which serves as an outlet for any concerns or pent-up emotions. When you are done writing, you can destroy it or save it, but the key is to let your feelings flow onto the paper. Listening to music is a wonderful stress reliever; this can be listening to or playing an instrument. Let yourself be fully engulfed by the music.

If these tools do not work to help manage your stress this Holiday season, it may be beneficial to seek help from a counselor. A counselor can provide more instruction on how to de-stress, as well as offer you a safe space to discuss any concerns that are difficult to manage. Remember as well that stress is a normal reaction for everyone, and that we all have difficulties managing stress at different times in our lives.

~ Alison Dinkelman, CSW