While ‘tis the season to be merry, for many of us, it’s also a season for stress, anxiety and angst, which leads us to behave in ways we’re sure to regret later. During this time of year, people often resort to bad habits—they may cave into sugar cravings, go for the booze and overdose on caffeine.
In part, that’s because, during the holidays, people tend to experience heightened emotions. You may feel overcome by loneliness, become annoyed by meddling relatives or lose patience with your loved ones. And in the present economy, you also may be worried about how you’ll be able to pay for good gifts without maxing out your credit cards.
In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that nearly half of all women in the United States experience heightened stress during the holidays, which puts their health at risk. The APA also learned that during this time, 41 percent of women use food and 28 percent use alcohol.
Unless you lean on effective relaxation and self-love techniques, as well as positive self-talk, all your worries may trigger overeating or binging, overloading on alcohol, arguments with your loved ones, skipping regular exercise, not getting enough sleep and neglecting your needs.
Of course, we all that devouring a bag of cookies, guzzling booze, venting to a loved one or spending too much money on holiday presents are not smart ways to sooth your holiday stress.
To help you have a happy season, here are 7 Tips to Relieve Holiday Stress.
1. Take calm-down breaks. Soon after you awake, close your eyes, take several deep breaths and meditate or just relax. Imagine yourself in a beautiful place, think of a happy memory or visualize yourself succeeding at a cherished goal. “Quieting down your mind before you begin your day can help it get off to a great start and things will flow for you,” says Debra Berndt, an expert in creative visualization and hypnosis and author of the upcoming book, Let Love In: Open Your Heart and Mind to Attract Your Ideal Partner. In addition, whenever you get stressed out, anxious or feel overwhelmed during the day, take quick relaxation breaks of 1 to 5 minutes to calm yourself down. Conscious, slow breathing can help you when you’re feeling frustrated waiting in line at the supermarket, post office or drug store.
2. Put on rose-colored glasses. When people try to push their bad habits on you during this holiday season, tune into their motivations. For instance, before you get annoyed at Aunt Jane, who keeps urging you to try a piece of her apple pie, or your co-worker Frank, who keeps trying to fill your glass with booze, first take a deep breath. Then, step into their shoes and realize that Jane is just showing that she loves you, and Frank is merely trying to be convivial. Then graciously thank them for their misguided attention. Rather than view your situation with annoyance, be grateful instead.
3. Get moving. Perhaps one of the best ways to overcome stress during the holidays or any other time is to exercise regularly. Research shows that physical activity not boosts your fitness and energy levels but can also elevate your moods. In addition, exercise has been found to reduce anger, tension, fatigue and confusion. Despite the many demands on your time, this is not the season to stop exercising. Indeed, when regular exercisers are inactive, they begin to feel depressed and fatigued after just one week, according to a study from scientists at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Exercise also can give you that much-acclaimed “runner’s high.” Indeed, research shows that rigorous physical activity of any kind pumps up production of endorphins, your body’s feel-good neurotransmitters.
4. Go for real foods mostly. Inevitably, at this time of year, you’ll be tempted with sugary, empty-calorie “treats” just about wherever you go. But to be your most energetic, focused and happy self, it’s best to eat foods that grow on trees or on the ground (vegetables and fruits) and to choose healthy fats (such as olive oil and flax seeds), lean protein (such as fish and organic chicken) and legumes, nuts and seeds.
5. Take polite portions of “comfort” foods and drinks. During the holidays, it’s easy to “fall off the wagon” and use—or over-use—alcohol, sugar and caffeine. It’s best to think before yu treat your body like a trash can instead of a temple. The best way to stay true to the best you is to limit your consumption of such comfort or pleasure foods and drinks as apple pie, cookies, pasta and eggnog. When offered these and other “goodies,” try to take three to five “polite” bites and sips—and only after having a well-balanced meal with smart carbs (vegetables, fruits or whole grains), fats and protein. (See Tip #4.) Be aware that if you’re a sugar addict, you must be especially vigilant when it comes to desserts and quickie carbs.
6. Prepare “Nice To Do For Me" and “Need to Do For You” lists. Writing down all that you have to do during the holidays will help you realize how do-able your tasks are. Be realistic as to what you put on your lists. Then start tackling one item from each list in turn. For example, after buying gifts for your mom or significant other, take time to work out, too. By alternating between lists, you won’t feel deprived, because you’re being good to yourself. Better yet, as Cheryl Richardson suggests in her fabulous book, Take Time for Your Life: A 7-Step Program for Creating the Life you Want, prepare an “Absolute Yes” list, which will reflect priorities that inspire you to use your gift of time well. “When you practice extreme self-care and put yourself first, you are then fully available to others without resentment or anger,” she aptly points out.
7. Be generous. One of the best ways to stay calm, content and cheerful this time of year is to act generously with your loved ones, co-workers and friends. This doesn’t have to mean you’re spending a lot of money. You can be generous with your compliments. You can generously offer to do a loved one’s dreaded errand. You can generously write a fun, short poem. When you are creative with your gifts and thank you’s, people will appreciate your real, heartfelt sentiments.