Tips to manage holiday stress

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Woman stressed during the holidays

The holiday season is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can be stressful sometimes. It often brings extra social and financial obligations; a breakdown of healthy eating and exercise habits; and can leave you feeling lonely or depressed.

A recent study by the American Academy of Neurology found a correlation between impaired memory and stress. Middle-aged adults with higher levels of cortisol—a hormone linked to stress—performed worse on memory and other cognitive tasks than peers of the same age with average cortisol levels. “The faster pace of life today probably means more stress, and when we are stressed, cortisol levels increase because that is our fight-or-flight response,” said study senior author Sudha Seshadri, M.D., professor of neurology at UT Health San Antonio. “This study adds to the prevailing wisdom that it’s never too early to be mindful of reducing stress.”

You can adopt some new traditions that may help prevent holiday stress and make this season a happy and healthy one.

Your physical health

When the holidays become more than what you expected, your health can be compromised. Holiday stress can put extra demands on your body. Here are some tips to maintain your health during this season:

  • Don’t do too much. Give yourself some time to relax.
  • Share the workload. Let everyone play an active role. Make the holidays a family or group affair so you’re not burdened with all the work.
  • Set priorities. You can’t do everything. Say no to some of the demands on your time.
  • Simplify your life. Be less elaborate this year. Relax your housekeeping and holiday preparations.
  • Continue to exercise. Don’t let your regular routine lapse.
  • Eat healthy foods. Limit your consumption of high-fat holiday treats. Serve healthy fare at your family’s holiday party.

Your emotional health

It’s easy to become anxious this time of year, especially if you believe something is lacking. Here are some ways to level your emotions and prevent holiday depression:

  • Ask yourself if you really enjoy all the rituals. Perhaps they have merely become habits. Try choosing less elaborate traditions of holidays past.
  • Don’t be afraid to scale down gift giving. You’ll probably get a lot of support.
  • If your yearly party is too much to handle, put it off until after the holidays. This will give you more time to prepare. It will also help ease post-holiday letdown by giving you something fun to look forward to.
  • If you can’t be with family, get out around people. Plan to be with friends or volunteer to help others who also may be separated from their families.

Happy and healthy kids

Children are especially vulnerable to commercial encouragement during the holiday season. All kids really need are realistic expectations about gifts, an even-paced holiday season and strong, loving family traditions. Here are some ways to make the holidays special for your children:

  • Spend more time with your kids. Entertain less and go to fewer parties that exclude children.
  • Watch less TV and do more things as a family. Find a healthy outdoor activity to participate in.
  • Include your kids in all preparations. Let your children help you decorate and bake, even if it means your creations aren’t perfect.
  • Teach children the meaning of giving. Adopt a needy family and have your kids help. Suggest that your children use their own money to buy a gift for an underprivileged child. Ask them to donate one of their own gifts to a less fortunate child.
  • Teach your children that gifts don’t have to be tangible. Trade intangible gifts with each other, such as helping with homework, washing the dishes and mowing the lawn. Let your children come up with their own ideas of what they can offer.

If you are interested in seeking professional help to manage stress, please contact your primary care physician or visit Department of Behavioral and Mental Health for community resources.

Source: Health Library

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