8 Healthy Ways to Deal with Holiday Stress

By Jigsaw Health's Research and Writing Staff
November, 2010 

The holidays are a magical time. They can also carry with them a lot of stress for most people.

There's the over-crowded shops, the over-booked calendar, the over-eating, over-spending, over-committing, over-drinking, and generally over-indulging that can put you over the edge. Even seeing beloved family members can spark conflicting emotions and threaten the peace.

So, it's not just me who feels stressed out by the holidays?

In an effort to help you cope better and enjoy the season more, let's start by revealing that you're definitely not alone in this stressful balancing act. Consider these top holiday stressors from a 2004 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA):

  • Lack of money (61%)
  • Pressures of gift-giving (42%)
  • Lack of time (34%)
  • Credit card debt (23%)1

And that was in 2004! Obviously, there have been some major economic changes since then, and those percentages are likely higher than ever this year. But, the good news is that something else has also changed... and that would be our expectations. While this may not be as obvious as the change in the economy, you've probably found it to be true. So, keep that in mind this holiday season and just do the best you can.

Dealing with Stress: Why is stress so overwhelming?

In times of stress, adrenaline kicks into gear causing the adrenal glands to produce cortisol.

Cortisol, the “fight or flight" hormone, jumps into action, raising its levels to give your body the boost it needs to get through the stressful event.

Then blood pressure rises, and glucose and fatty acids flood the bloodstream to provide the body with additional fuel. Even blood platelets become stickier to help heal wounds that may occur in the “fight or flight" response.

When the stressor passes, the body returns to normal.

But repeated or prolonged stress keeps the body in a constant state of “fight or flight," pushing cortisol, blood pressure, glucose, and fatty acid levels to an unhealthy high.

Combine that with poor nutrition and difficult digestion — often the result of extended stress — and healthcare professionals agree that you may be setting yourself up for later age-related problems.

So here are our 8 tips to help you avoid getting overwhelmed by stress this holiday season:

8 Healthy Holiday Tips (in no particular order):

  1. See stress for what it is. Stress happens. Life happens. Viewing normal life events as uncontrollable, personal attacks “wires" you to produce more and more cortisol, drive up your blood pressure, and jeopardize your health. But seeing normal life events as — well, normal — enables your body to "come down" from stressful situations more quickly and stop the vicious stress cycle before it gets out of control.
  2. Eat, drink, and be merry — within reason. The holidays are meant for celebration, not overindulgence. Use our holiday eating guide to make wise — and healthy — choices. Having some Digestive Enzymes handy could also be helpful to prevent indigestion from too many rich foods.
  3. Exercise for your sanity's sake. When the stress seems overwhelming, take an exercise break. Just 30 minutes a day — a brisk walk, a run on the treadmill, or strength training — gives you a powerful tool to fend off stress. Exercise not only helps you manage weight and is good for your body, but it can help you de-stress and clear your mind. And with a clear mind, you can make better decisions about what’s good for you this holiday season.
  4. Rein in the shopping. Instead of searching out the latest gadget or this year’s “must have" toy…stop: you don’t have to add to the national debt or indulge everyone’s whim. Limit your gift-giving to an important few. Stay home and shop on the Internet. Or go to the mall at the least busy times. Better yet, give the gift that everyone treasures: time. Plan a family vacation, treat friends to dinner, take a little one to a favorite museum. Memories are not found in things, but in the time you spend with those you care about most.
  5. Give unto others. Smile at a stranger, donate food and clothing, help at the homeless shelter, wrap presents for children who would otherwise have none. Take the focus off yourself and put the spotlight on someone else. Caring for another bonds you to humanity in a way like no other—and keeps your feet on the ground.
  6. Get the attitude of gratitude. Make a list of everything you’re grateful for and add to it every day. It doesn’t have to be big, just meaningful. Holding a puppy, seeing a stellar sunset, giving someone a hand, keeping your sanity — just be thankful for the opportunity to live!
  7. Make it real. Even though Hollywood and Madison Avenue might wish it to be so, Christmas is not about creating the perfect family holiday. It’s about enjoying what’s here and now. Keep expectations real, and don’t try to solve long-simmering issues at the family dinner. Allow your gathering to have its own life—whatever that may be.
  8. Take time for yourself. Taking care of yourself helps you to take better care of others in your life. Go for a long walk or take time out to read or listen to your favorite music. By slowing down you will actually have more energy to accomplish your goals.

So resolve this holiday season to reduce and better manage your stress, and enjoy the holidays in good health and happiness!

Cited Sources:

  1. “Dealing with Holiday Stress," APA Help Center, American Psychological Association
    http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-dealing.aspx... Accessed November 2010
  2. "Mind/Body Health," APA Practice Media Room, American Psychological Association
    http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx Accessed November 2010
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