LIVING WELL: How to Combat Holiday Stress

Let There Be Peace…of Mind
21 easy ways to combat holiday stress.

Let There Be Peace
…of Mind

21 easy ways to combat holiday stress.

Every year, you vow the holidays will be different. Now is the time to make sure they are. Take stock of the things you’re doing and figure out what you really want out of the season. Decide what you want it to look like and with whom you want to share it. If spending time with family is important, plan ahead and don’t over-schedule. It’s fun to be included in holiday parties, but be choosey about the invitations you accept.

“The first step to minimizing stress is to recognize your own actions as a source of your stress,” says Dr. Robert Bulgarelli, a cardiologist and stress management consultant at Riddle Memorial Hospital. “Most of us get so caught up in the drama—the chaos—we forget that we caused it.”
And some are also dealing with the added emotional hardships of divorce, illness and death. “Hurts seem sharper around the holidays,” says Dr. Michael J. Baime, director of the Penn Program for Stress Management. “The contrast of what you think you should be feeling and what you are feeling—anxiety, sadness—can cause unease and even tension with others who aren’t getting your state of mind.”

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If you’ve reached your stress limit, Baime recommends a simple 10-breath mindfulness exercise. Sit down, close your eyes and focus solely on your breathing.

“Bring your attention away from what you’re worried about in both the past and the future —‘My in-laws hate me; I bought the wrong size; last year we did this; I really don’t want to go to that party’—and settle into the present,” he advises. “Metaphorically, the present is what the season is about.” Here are 21 ways to keep yourself in the here and now:

1. Focus on quality vs. quantity. Rather than giving lots and lots of gifts, make the one’s you do give special.

2. Celebrate the winter solstice. This is especially cool if you have a telescope and can do some serious stargazing.

3. Get outside and breathe. Make a snowman or a snow angel, spread seed for the birds, or make feeders out of pinecones and peanut butter.

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4. Go caroling and laugh at how off-key your singing is.

5. Adopt a policy of everything in moderation. Including moderation.

6. Make a meal for less-fortunate, ill or elderly neighbors. Or take blankets and coats to the city and hand them out.

7. Sit down as a family and talk about all the things you’re thankful for.

8. Be nice. Little gestures of kindness go a long way this time of year.

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9. Love Mother Nature. Buy wisely; conserve energy.

10. Take a break from TV news. Yes, it’s real life—but it’s also real depressing.

11. Tune out technology. For a few days, anyway.

12. Have a romantic meal with your significant other. And create a special meal for the kids, including them in the planning and preparations.

13. Read Betsy Taylor’s What Kids Really Want That Money Can’t Buy (Warner Books, 224 pages).

14. Put Christmas music on. And leave it on.

15. Buy one bunch of flowers for every week of the holiday season. And fill your house with seasonal bulbs.

16. If you have a fireplace, use it.

17. Instead of worrying about the perfect holiday greeting card, have your kids help you create a homemade card.

18. Or just send a New Year’s card instead.

19. Practice aromatherapy. We can’t get enough of intoxicating greens, pine or gingerbread scented candles.

20. Focus on the big picture. Don’t get bogged down by the details. It’s about people, not things.

21. Remember what really matters and forget about perfection. The world isn’t perfect—you don’t have to be.


Too Much of a Good Thing

For most of us, celebrating the holidays involves alcohol. And while moderate amounts have been found to have health benefits, alcohol is a depressant. If you’re fatigued, feeling blue or simply out of sorts, too many drinks can have a real negative impact. And there can be an emotional cost when the alcohol wears off. “You’re worse off than when you started,” says Dr. Michael J. Baime, director of the Penn Program for Stress Management.

Food portions can also triple over the holidays, derailing even the most prudent eater.

“Often we view not eating as an insult to our host,” says Dr. Robert Bulgarelli, a cardiologist and stress management consultant at Riddle Memorial Hospital. “But when you deviate over the holidays, it’s hard to get back. Then you get into this cycle of self-loathing, and you create all this drama in your head and decrease your ability to enjoy the season.”

So take their advice: Only drink alcohol in moderation, eat nutritious foods, decrease fat and sugar intakes, and avoid caffeine.


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