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A Recipe for Holiday Stress Relief

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


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

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Create active memories by adding an exercise component to your vacation. And when we say exercise we are not talking about jumping jacks or push ups. We are just talking about walking, biking or hiking instead of taking a bus, cab, mule or Segway around town.

For example, say you are going to a big city like New York or Chicago for a family vacation. Instead of sightseeing on a double-decker bus, choose a few sights to see each day and walk to them. Walking around a big city gives you a more intimate and memorable view of the city.

You get to experience the city with all of your senses. The hustle and bustle of masses coming off the subway as they approach their office is amazing. You'll hear the talented street musicians playing unusual instruments along side food vendors barking out their regional specialties.

Experiencing a city or town on foot makes it truly comes alive. You are seeing the city like the local resident does. And since you are on the ground walking along side the locals, you can ask them for favorite restaurant suggestions or hole in the wall museums that only they go to.

Sure, when you are on one of those group bus tours, you'll see more things, but the downside is that the only people you are around are other out-of-towners who don't really know the city and the bus driver who is paid to steer you to certain tourist traps.

Another great way to create active memories in a new city is to rent bikes in order to explore places that are a bit farther away and might be off the beaten path. Some nature based parks locations like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park lend themselves to wonderful scenic hikes. If you have ever hiked down the Grand Canyon, white water rafted on the Colorado River or ice skated in Central Park you and your child will never forget it.

Dr Fitness Says: I promise that if you walk or ride bikes during your next vacation that your children will thank you for it.

The Fat Guy Says: You kids will thank you when they get back to the hotel and raid the mini bar.

Excerpted from 35 Things to Know to Raise Active Kids copyright (c) 2010 by Turner Publishing Company

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