It is no secret that the holiday season can be one of the most stressful times of the year for many people. The causes are many financial pressures, family friction, time constraints and fatigue to name a few.
Some stress is considered to be normal, providing energy and motivation to meet daily challenges, both at home and in the workplace. This kind of “positive” stress helps us rise to adversity and meet goals and deadlines.
However, when challenges become too demanding, we begin to see negative signs of stress, which can put one’s mental health and physical safety at risk. The symptoms can vary to include:
Physical: Headaches, grinding teeth, clenched jaws, chest pain, shortness of breath, pounding heart, high blood pressure, muscle aches, indigestion, increased perspiration, fatigue, insomnia, and frequent illness.
Psychosocial: Anxiety, irritability, sadness, defensiveness, anger, mood swings, hypersensitivity, apathy, depression, slowed thinking or racing thoughts, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or of being trapped.
Behavioral: Overeating or loss of appetite, impatience, quickness to argue, procrastination, increased use of alcohol or drugs, increased smoking, withdrawal or isolation from others, neglect of responsibility, poor job performance, poor personal hygiene, change in religious practices, change in close family relationships.
There is no magic formula for coping with stress, but there are some proven ways to minimize it. As the holidays approach, the first step is to do some stress-busting preparation.
Consider what has stressed you in the past and what might occur this time around. We encourage you to try these stress-relieving steps:
- Be realistic. Whether shopping, entertaining, cleaning, traveling, or attending to any of the myriad demands of the season, there is only so much time available. The holidays don’t have to be perfect. Do what you can within a reasonable schedule.
- Set priorities. There might always be last-minute details, but don’t delay putting your schedule together. Get those to-do lists ready as soon as you can, and set aside specific days to get certain things done. Where possible (at work or at home), delegate or share as many tasks as possible.
- Stick to a budget. Before you go shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try alternatives such as donating to a charity in someone’s name, giving homemade gifts or starting a family gift exchange.
- Stay healthy. It is very easy to overindulge with food and alcohol at this time of year. This can add to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday gatherings to help you go easy on sweets, cheese, and drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and regular physical activity during this season.
- Take breaks. Giving yourself some time to relax without distractions could refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk at night and stargaze, listen to soothing music, or watch a movie. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind and restoring inner calm.
- Reach out. Remember, there could be many people in worse situations than yours. They might be alone or trying to cope with personal tragedy, or just plain frazzled. If you can offer help or a kind gesture, do so. Volunteering your time is a good way to lift spirits and broaden friendships.
- Be positive. Try not to worry about things of which you have little or no control. Make it your mission to spread good cheer, and remember that laughter is among the best stress-busters. Share a joke or seek out other reasons to smile and chuckle. Above all, don’t allow the holidays to become something you dread.
Learning about your negative stress “triggers”, and doing some advance preparation can help make the season a lot jollier.
However, if the effects of stress are overwhelming and seem to be the cause of serious emotional or physical issues, don’t be afraid to seek out professional help.