Insights from the Editor

A Recipe for Holiday Stress Relief

posted by Andrea Kane on November 22, 2010 2:50 PM

holiday-family-gathering

It seems that every year, around mid-October, my life starts to slowly snowball out of control. First there is Halloween and the pressure of helping my kids devise (and then create) a clever costume.

Then comes November which brings with it one daughter's birthday (with attendant celebration), followed by Thanksgiving (which involves either travel or cooking or both). And then before I know it, December descends upon me and so does the other daughter's birthday, closely followed by my husband's and father's birthdays (this year it's the BIG 8-0 for Pops!) and then Christmas/Chanukah (which also involves either cooking or travel or both).

Of course, there are also holiday cards to make and mail, and "perfect" gifts to find, buy and ship. Not to mention office and neighborhood parties (which require dressing up and trying to score a sitter) and cookie-exchanges (which require baking cookies!).

If cultural indicators are to be trusted, I know that I am not alone: 'Tis the season to be totally stressed out. But, as we all know by now, stress is not good for body or soul.

According to the experts, there are steps we can take to reduce that stress, most of which is of our own making.

"One of the big things is that people do a lot of 'should-ing' this time of year," says Paula Bloom, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia. "They have an ideal in their heads—from magazines and movies and family expectations—for how things should be. But it does not line up with what they can or want to do." This, she says, creates tension.

The solution? "Stop 'should-ing' all over yourself" she advises. Create your own traditions based on what matters to you, not what you think you should be doing. To help you decide what is important, focus on the spiritual, instead of commercial, aspects of the holidays. And spend your financial and emotional capital wisely—you don't want to get to January emotionally or financially bankrupt.

The second big reason holidays create so much stress is that they take us out of our daily routines. "People stop doing the things that keep them healthy physically and mentally: sleeping and eating right, and exercising," says Bloom.

"Take care of yourself. Just because you're going to party doesn't mean you throw out your good behavior. Stay on your exercise schedule and maintain healthy sleep patterns if you can. In general we do well when we have routines," says Bloom. She notes that it's much easier to maintain an existing routine than it is to start one.

For many people, the Granddaddy of all stressors is interacting with family. "We all have our issues with our family," says Bloom. "Holidays are often time when people get mega, mega doses of their family. It can be intense." Her advice to counter family-induced stress: spend time with the people you enjoy.

The American Psychological Association advises people with family issues to be realistic about the situation. "If you have bad feelings about someone, try and avoid him or her and not make an issue of it but don't pretend that all is well. This will enable you to feel true to yourself and less stressed out."

The Mayo Clinic counsels people to set aside grievances until a more appropriate time to discuss them, and to remember that others are likely feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression too.

To reduce my stress level this year, here's what I'm going to do: Cut my trip to my hometown from 10 days to four. I'm sure the change will greatly reduce my parents' stress level, as well. Happy Holidays, Mom and Dad!

Related Links:
How to relax your body

Tips to eliminate negative thoughts and ease stress

Can knitting really relieve stress? Our resident humorist unwinds this yarn.

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About the Author

Andrea Kane

Andrea Kane has been writing and producing health and medical news for television, the web and various magazines for almost all of her professional career.

Most recently, she was a health producer at CNN.com where, among other things, she helped direct content for the award-winning web site’s five health pages. Prior to that she was as a staff writer at WebMD (and its predecessor Medcast) and the Wellness Correspondent for travelgirl magazine. She started her career as a writer and producer in CNN's award-winning medical unit.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, amidst the writing and reporting frenzy, she managed to produce two terrific daughters, who also appear to have ink running in their veins and are never at a loss for words (the wheels of karma have a tight turning radius indeed).

Andrea attended Vassar College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. A native New Yorker, she moved to Atlanta almost 20 years ago.