While many look forward to the holidays, others dread the season. Everyone feels stressed from time to time. It’s how the brain and body respond to any demand. If you feel stressed, the obligations at holiday time can take their toll on even the most cheerful of people. Here are some tips to help you minimize holiday stress:
Causes of Holiday Stress
Ask yourself what exactly about the season makes you feel stressed. Your feelings may be triggered by the following:
- Unhappy childhood memories
- Difficult familial relationships
- Negative feelings about your life over the past year
- Seasonal monotony—seeing the same faces, eating the same food and going through the same motions
- Lowered immune defenses because of colder temperatures, high incidence of the flu, eating more and sleeping less
- Financial stress
How to Minimize Holiday Stress
Consider the following tips to help reduce stress this holiday season:
- Enjoy the present and try not to worry about what may be lacking.
- Don’t feel you must meet all family obligations. Do not simply do something or go somewhere because of tradition, especially if it makes you unhappy.
- Ask others for assistance. For example, ask a relative to host the family get-together, or make it a potluck and have everyone contribute to the meal.
- Make a to-do list in chronological order to minimize stress.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
- Stay active and continue to eat a balanced diet.
- Create a new tradition, such as volunteering, especially if you feel lonely.
- Make time for yourself and your needs, even when hosting guests in your house.
- Keep tabs on your holiday spending. Make a budget and stick to it, no exceptions.
Stress Outside of the Holiday Season
If stress continues to weigh on you year-round and is part of your everyday life, there may be bigger things at play. Every type of demand and stressor- such as exercise, work school, life changes, or traumatic events- can be stressful. However, it can begin affecting your overall health and happiness. It’s important to pay attention to how you deal with minor and major stress events so that you know when and if you should seek help.
Here are 5 additional things you should know about stress, how it affects you, and when to seek out a professional for help:
1. Stress affects everyone
Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Some people may cope with stress more effectively or recover from stressful events more quickly and easily than others. There are various types of stress- all which carry physical and mental health risks. A stressor could be a one time or short term occurrence, or an occurrence that continues happening over a longer period of time.
2. Not all stress is bad
Stress can motivate people to prepare or perform, like when they need to take a test or interview for a new job. Stress can even be life-saving in certain situations, such as when faced with danger. Your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense… all functions aimed at survival.
3. Long-term stress can harm your health
Health problems can occur if the stress response goes on for too long or becomes chronic, such as when the source of the stressor is constant, or if the response continues after the danger has subsided. With chronic stress, those same life-saving responses in your body can suppress immune, digestive, sleep, and reproductive systems, which may cause them to stop working normally.
Different people may feel stress in different ways. Some may experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger or irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold.
Routine stress may be the hardest type to notice at first. Because the source of this stress tends to be more constant than in cases of acute or traumatic stress, the body gets no clear signal to return to normal functioning. Overtime, continued strain on your body may contribute to more serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.
4. There are many ways to manage stress
The effects of stress tend to build over time. Taking practical steps to manage your stress can reduce or prevent these effects. The following are some tips that may help you cope with stress year-round:
- Recognize the signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol or other substance abuse, angering easily, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
- Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider. Get proper health care for existing or new health problems.
- Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and reduce stress!
- Try a relaxing activity. Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, or other gentle exercises. For some forms of stress-related conditions, these approaches are used in addition to other forms of treatment. schedule regular times for these and other healthy relaxing activities.
- Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you on overload. Note what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day, not what you were unable to do.
- Stay connected with people who can provide emotional and other support. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family and community or religious organizations.
5. If you’re overwhelmed by stress, ask for help from a health professional
You should seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts, are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, or are using drugs and alcohol to cope. Your doctor may be able to provide a recommendation. You can find resources to help you find a mental health provider by visiting the National Institute of Mental Health’s Find Help website.
The holiday season should be a time of enjoyment, not stress. However you celebrate the holidays, practicing gratitude is another great habit to have. Focus on what you are thankful for, focus on all the positive things you’ve experienced over the past year, enjoy time with your loved ones, and try to take it easy. Happy Holidays!
Anyone experiencing severe or long-term, unrelenting stress can become overwhelmed. If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential.
Source: CDC, National Institute of Mental Health