From Biosis 7, November 2005
Living Well: A Few Tips for Dealing with Holiday Stress
We all feel stress in our daily lives. Indeed, it’s a part of being human, and some of it is good for us. It can motivate us and help us get things done, and helps protect us in times of danger. But excess stress has a negative effect on us – body, mind and spirit.
Many of us deal with such overload each holiday season. There’s simply so much more going on – people to visit, events to attend, preparations to make – that when coupled with our usual stressors, it’s surprising when one doesn’t feel at least a bit more stressed than usual.
Fortunately, there are ways of managing stress. Although these tips apply to all times of the year, they can be especially helpful during the festive season.
Deep breathing has an incredibly soothing effect, supplying extra oxygen and creating a sense of calm, focus and re-centering. Most of the time, we tend to breathe shallowly, using our lungs rather than our diaphragms. When you feel the tension rising, mentally step back and take a few deep breaths through your nose (not your mouth). It really works. Try to breathe this way – from your gut rather than your chest – on a regular basis.
Our holiday celebrations tend to center on food. Lots of us look forward to the sweets and other seasonal foods that may not be the best for us nutritionally but give us pleasure. It’s important not to let such foods replace more nutritionally wholesome foods. Instead, treat these foods as acomplement to a regular, balanced diet. Also, many holiday meals are heavy in starches and refined carbohydrates, with foods like mashed potatoes, stuffing, breads, jellies and the like. Balance these foods with lower-glycemic whole grains, legumes and vegetables, and drink plenty of water. If you choose to use alcohol, drink in moderation.
Make Time for Yourself
At this time of year, we often get so involved with giving to and doing things for others, we forget to do things for ourselves. Set aside some time every day for yourself to do the things that most give you pleasure – a time-out from the hectic holiday pace. It’s a beautiful paradox that when we are “selfish” enough to take time for ourselves, we become better able to take care of others.
Keep Balanced Expectations
Perhaps the biggest holiday stressor comes from the very natural desire for our celebrations to match those depicted on TV, in movies or on greeting cards. But one of the reasons those depictions can move us is that they’re idealized images, not real ones. If we expect our celebrations to mirror them, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Making sure you have realistic expectations for the holidays is probably the number one thing you can do to reduce the stress and increase the joys to be found in the simple pleasures of gathering with friends and family to share the rituals and traditions of your holiday celebrations.