Science and Sensibility

A psychological potpourri

Freedom from Holiday Stress

Learn how to stop feeling stressed out

The holidays are times for joyful festivities. Unfortunately, with the good can come the grim. Around the holidays, you are likely to feel flustered by extra responsibilities and from feeling rushed. You have Black Friday, last minute X-mas shopping, travel delays, and too many demands.

Do the holidays evoke distressed feelings? Do you create and amplify the stresses you feel? After the holidays, do you feel a spike in depression in January? For many, the answer is yes.

Over the past 5 years, the American Psychological Association stress surveys annually show that 68% to 75% of Americans feel burdened by emotional and financial tensions during the holidays and beyond. If you count yourself among this multitude, can you teach yourself to get control over your stresses and lead a healthier and happier life throughout the year?

You can help yourself do this in three main ways: liberate your mind, fortify your body, and change negative patterns. Let's see how.

Liberate Your Mind

Holidays are like a scene in a play on life. The script you follow on that stage makes a big difference.  For example, believe that you must buy only perfect gifts, and you are likely to feel stressed over the possibility that someone will be unhappy. Expect that the holiday times should only be pleasant and wonderful, and you are likely to feel exasperated. If you don't like the results of the script you follow, edit and revise it. 

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It is important to recognize, question, and neutralize negative scripted thinking that amplifies feelings of tension.  For example, how does thinking that you must only buy perfect gifts harmonize with reality? Is there a factual basis for believing that over the holidays you should live in a bubble of bliss?  

What do these examples have in common? They are exaggerations, and, as such, are not consistent with real-life experiences. If you’re honest with yourself, you'll expect the world to be as it is, not as you think it must be. 

Although many life events are beyond your control, what is always within your reach is your ability to accept what is. This acceptance substitutes for the extra tensions that come from insisting on a perfect life that can never be. Change your script in this way, and the scenes that you play on the stage of life will be free of this form of needless tension.

 (Click the free Pioneer of the Mind collection for a series of brief articles on techniques to liberate your mind from stressful thinking)

Fortify Your Body

Over the holidays, you may feel extra emotional and physical pressures that can wear and tear on your body. Rockefeller University professor, Bruce McEwen, calls this the allostatic load factor.  The higher the load, the more damage you are likely to do to your body.

Holiday shopping, extra socializing, conflicts, loneliness, and travel can have a biologically exhausting effect that affects your sleep cycles, emotional well-being, frustration tolerance, and clear thinking abilities.  Adequate exercise, diet, and sleep—all year round—can serve as an important buffer against stress, and lower your allostatic load. These remedies were known to the ancient Egyptians and Hippocrates, the father of medicine, as buffers against stress and as "cures" for depression.

To build your body to withstand stress.  Regular exercise is an evidence-based way to reduce stress. Click on Kick Procrastination and Get Fit. Eat healthy, and you are less likely to suffer the stresses and strains that go with extra weight. Click on Finally, Lose Weight and Keep it Off. Get adequate sleep and you are less likely to feel stressed or depressed. Click on Sixteen Ways to End Insomnia.

Change Negative Pattern(s)

Under stressful conditions, you may do what many do. You think stressful thoughts and fall back to familiar patterns where you avoid dealing with the sources of your stresses. You eat comfort food, drink, smoke, or argue to distract yourself from tensions. These distractions have a boomerang effect. After the holidays, you’ve packed on extra pounds.  Squabbling with others may lead to ongoing bad feelings.

It’s not always easy to change patterns by going from thinking about changing to making positive changes. In this process, you may be your own saboteur. For example, do you tell yourself that you don’t have the will power to develop healthy patterns? If so, welcome to the world of procrastination. Take the time and act as if you had the will to break a procrastination habit. You may pleasantly surprise yourself with the positive results that you earn and deserve. You will have also acted to revise a repetitive part of a negative script.

Click on Procrastination Thinking for a free multimedia program for recognizing and debunking this form of self-deception.  

For more in-depth information on overcoming procrastination, click on The Procrastination Workbook

For more in-depth information on dealing with stress, click on The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety

© Dr. Bill Knaus

 

 

Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is the author of more than 20 books; one, "Overcoming Procrastination", was co-authored with Albert Ellis.

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