On your marks, get set, GO! That's how so many of us feel now that Thanksgiving crept up on us and it's a mad dash to the New Year. Between holiday shopping, special family and work events, as well as out-of-town visitors or traveling, it sometimes feels like a marathon with the finish line nowhere in sight.

Life is already stressful enough with long hours at work, financial constraints and caring for your home, children and aging parents. Topping that off with the added responsibilities and commitments that are innate to the holiday season can, frankly, all too often add more stress. And the effects of stress can be harmful to your physical and mental health, particularly in those who have chronic illness or disease. Studies have shown stress can aggravate headaches, backpain, cancer, post-traumatic stress disease (PTSD) and immune system deficiencies to name a few.

Let's take a look at 10 helpful tips to "unwrap" your stress:

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1. Create a "to-do" list. Time is your most important commodity, so use it wisely. Writing down what needs to be done can keep things in perspective when you are faced with the myriad obligations that arise. Seeing it in black and white helps you rank your priorities - "has to," "nice to," "does not need to" be done. Don't stress if you do not get past what "has to" be done.

2. Bury the hatchet. If you are warring with a family member who you will be seeing during the holidays, consider extending an olive branch beforehand to avoid an awkward episode.

3. Stick to a budget. Creating a winter wonderland without depleting your bank account or maxing out your credit card is challenging. Create a budget and commit to it. When it comes to shopping for presents, think outside the of "gift" box. The best presents are not the most expensive, but the most thoughtful.

4. Get some rays. The cold weather can make spirits blue. Spending time outdoors or near a window on sunny days can help keep the blues away. Sunlight can boost your serotonin levels and improve your mood.

5. Wake up and smell the citrus. Studies have shown orange and lemon scents, even from essential oils, can decrease anxiety and promote a feeling of well-being. Consider lighting an aroma candle or dabbing the scent on the inside of your wrist or on a handkerchief so you can access the power of the smell throughout the day.

6. Exercise. Don't wait for the New Year to make this part of your "to-do" list. Start now. Not only is breaking out a sweat good for your heart and can keep those inches off of your waistline, studies have shown it also can boost your mood for up to 12 hours.

7. Press your Hoku point (not to be mistaken for Haiku which are short poems that use sensory language to capture a feeling or image). Hoku is located on the back of the hand, in the webbing where the thumb and index finger meet. To find the exact point, bring your thumb and index finger together. Pressing that spot for 30 to 60 seconds has been shown to decrease stress and tension.

8. Take deep breaths and laugh, a lot. It is no joke that having a sense of humor can release tension. In addition to having a good time, laughing functions to enhance blood circulation and muscle relaxation.

9. Do a tech cleanse. The constant texting, emailing and hearing the numerous alerts on our smartphones are not only exhausting, but stressful. One study showed 80 percent of people demonstrated a temporary suspension or change in their breathing when they emailed. So breathe easy and consider shutting off your gadgets at holiday get-togethers.

10. Give a helping hand. The benefits of volunteering are several-fold. In addition to putting perspective on your circumstances, appreciating your blessings, socializing, and even learning new skills, volunteering can help protect your mental and physical health. It's a win-win situation. And afterall, that's what the holiday season is for.

While we "Let it Snow" and "Hang Around the Mistletoe," make sure to curb your stress and "Take a Breath of Heaven" so you can enjoy a "Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Afterall, "Tis the Season to Be Jolly" while "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "The Little Drummer Boy" are around to remind us of "Silent Night" and keep us "Rockin' around the Christmas Tree." Feliz Navidad.

Dr Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions on general medical topics to her at drninaradcliff@aol.com


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