‘Tis the Season: 5 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress
As the 3 foot Batmans and Cinderellas’ of 2018 closed their sleepy little eyes on another successful Halloween season of pumpkin picking, hay-riding, multiple trick-or-treating outings and festivals of bounce houses, rock walls, candy corn, popcorn and snow cones, tired and weary parents now have the excited pleasure of planning the next 50 events for the upcoming action packed months of the Holiday season!
Fall decor, cooking and Thanksgiving prep! Family pictures and visits with Santa… tree-lightings, musicals, pageants, cookie decorating, party after party…and of course… SHOPPING! So much to do! So much to see! No time to sleep!!!!!
As you face the sprint to Christmas, it’s also important to consider your own mental health in the process! While these events can be fun and memorable, they can also be INCREDIBLY STRESSFUL!!!! Especially if you have small children. So hear me on this: research has shown that increased levels of stress can not only cause you emotional discomfort, but it can actually suppress your immune system making you vulnerable to sickness! This is because when you are facing a stressful event or prolonged exposure to stress, your adrenal glands kick your heart-rate, respiration and muscles into high gear by drawing from every possible energy reserve in your body, including your immune system! Blood flow is actually diverted AWAY from your immune system in order to send your heart-rate sky high, to increase your breathing and prime your muscles to keep you alert, fully engaged, and ready to meet the demands and challenges of that stressor. When you remain in that state of stress, it can actually lead to complete depletion of your energy reserves, leaving you vulnerable to illness and disease. And if you already have other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, or a family history, stress has been known to increase your risk for coronary heart disease. So while stress doesn’t cause illness, it can severely cripple your ability to fight it, which is completely NOT COOL!!! So what can you do to slow everything down this season and keep your sanity AND your health in a good place?!
Here are a few little tips;)
Set realistic expectations!
While it is certainly tempting to tackle EVERY party and EVERY holiday event over the next couple months, we all know the mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that accompanies that! Select your top faves and be willing to let go of the rest! The events are so much more enjoyable when you are well-rested and in happy moods!
Learn to say no to unrealistic demands by family near and far! They will be disappointed, and certainly validate their disappointment, but your sanity and mental health are important! They will get over it! Don’t fall for the guilt trips!! It is not realistic to visit 5 houses in 24 hours! This is not the movie “Four Christmases” !! The only way that ends is in complete frustration and utter exhaustion!!! Get rid of holiday dread! Just say no!!!
Also realize that your cranky uncle who makes it his mission to destroy Thanksgiving dinner every year with debates in religion and politics will not likely change! Nor will your gossip-queen cousin, or the particular family member who feels you need advice on everything from parenting to home decorating. Learn to anticipate these moments and prepare yourself for them! If you need a quick breather, go for a post-meal walk with the kids!
While it may be in your heart to blow your wallet and refinance your home in order to afford gifts for those you love, it is totally not necessary! The best gift is the gift of your time, your love and your relationship! Financial fallout after the holidays is a MAJOR STRESSOR!!!! Figure out what you can realistically spend, and stick to it! Home-made gifts are fun too! Totally guilty right here! Who wouldn’t want your child’s handprint on an ornament every year???!!!
Take care of Yourself!
This one is SUPER important! If you are living in the sunshine state, soak up that vitamin D!!! Even if you don’t, get outside in that fresh, brisk air! Go for a walk or jog! Get your heart pumping and your blood flowing. That is one of THE best things you can do to relieve stress! Exercise increases heart and lung fitness and simultaneously releases certain neurotransmitters that boost mood, reducing the chances for anxiety and depression. It is also associated with better cognitive function later in life due to something called neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons)!
And sometimes during the holidays, loneliness can sink in when watching others with their families. If you are feeling lonely, get out of the house and get involved in something! Call your friends, plan some outings, or even volunteer somewhere! There is actually a psychological concept called the “do good-feel good phenomenon” that has shown people actually feel better after doing something for someone else! So pack some Thanksgiving meals, visit the elderly, or volunteer at a daycare and hold some babies!!!
Acknowledge your feelings!
If you endured hardships this year, such as loss of a loved one, divorce, family estrangement, or financial distress, know that it is normal to feel sadness and grief and possibly even to experience a resurgence of pain during the Holidays! It is OK and even healthy to cry and take time to talk about what you’re going through with those close to you. Did you know that social support (with people who genuinely care about you) can reduce your blood pressure and foster stronger immunity! In a 1989 study, Researcher J. W. Pennebaker found that Holocaust survivors who were able to open up and deeply share the pain of their experiences with family and friends experienced faster improvements in health over a 14 month period than those who did not, or who did not share deeply. Confiding painful feelings in your close relationships can not only improve your stress, but it can improve your general health!
Seek professional help if you need it.
But still sometimes all the encouragements, parties, and time with family and friends during the Holidays don’t seem to help pull us out of deep pain and struggle. If you find yourself experiencing overwhelming anxiety or depression this season, there is help! Seeing a therapist can feel weird and scary; but know that therapists are specially trained in the art of listening, understanding, and navigating complex emotion, thinking, behavior, and conflict. A therapist can provide you with an objective level of insight that you may not be able to find in your other connections and supportive relationships.
So just remember… that while the Holiday traditions and events can be super fun and you may feel life is incomplete without hitting everything on the checklist, the most important thing is the love you celebrate with family and friends! It is OK to slow down and let go of the desire to do IT ALL! Allow yourself that. Slow down. Let some things go. Relax. Give yourself time to actually SOAK IN the season. No more rushing. Enjoy it. Breathe it in. Life is too short to let stress ruin these precious moments…or your health!