Nina Radcliff

Dr. Nina Radcliff

Have you already felt the onset of added stress as you step into this holiday season? Most likely.

Holiday statistics report stress levels increase, substantially.

And yes, it rolls around every year, which makes you think you are better prepared. But the increased stress is real. Along with your ongoing daily stressors — working demanding hours, fighting traffic, caring for family, paying the bills and meeting project deadlines — now, there’s more. The holidays arrive, adding an additional layer of stress to your already-busy life.

And, guess what studies say the biggest causes of holiday stress are? Time, over-commitment and anxious thoughts. Depending on how well you manage stress, the season’s added responsibilities and additional demands can have a negative impact on your body and mind.

The good news is there are a number of ways you can take charge and steer away from the holiday madness and manage the added stress that presents itself at the holidays.

Here are some healthy ways to relieve holiday pressure and maintain your balance with more “comfort and joy.”

Dr. Nina’s What you need to know: Reduce holiday stress and maintain the joys of the season:

1. Planning is key

Time is our most precious commodity — when it is gone, you can never get it back, so we must use it wisely. Before getting submerged, and possibly overwhelmed, with the holidays, let’s start by creating a to-do list and calendar for the next several weeks. Writing things down can help to manage the flurry of activities and responsibilities including decorating, gift shopping and wrapping, volunteering and office and family parties. And keep the list and calendar out in the open to help you and yours track the events.

Make certain to set realistic goals, maintain balance and create boundaries to decrease circuit overload. Be discriminating and rank your things to do by “have to,” “nice to” and “does not need to” be done. Don’t stress if you do not get past what “has to” be done. And, too, identify what brings joy — what you love about the holidays — whether it is hosting friends, listening to holiday music, decorating, special times with family, baking or reflective time. And then make sure to prioritize that on your calendar as well as appreciating the moments. We live in an age of distractions with demanding deadlines — and even more so during the holidays with added commitments — but life still unfolds in the present.

2. Bah-humbug (toxic tales) and dealing with changes

For some, holiday festivities can evoke painful memories or “holiday blues” due to a loss (death, divorce, the end of a relationship), health problems, complicated family dynamics, or isolation. This may be compounded by the expectation this should be a joyful, festive and cheerful time. When faced with these challenges, the key is to be conscious of them. Some tips from experts include:

• Consider letting go of old customs and make new memories. Perhaps, take a trip away or celebrate in a different manner (e.g., changing where or with whom you spend the holidays with).

• If you are religious, reflect on the spiritual significance of the holidays.

• Before a family gathering, remember the power of extending olive branches; to pace yourself (you may not have to stay for 4 hours or all 3 days); and too, the courage to maintain safe boundaries for a healthy celebration.

• In some cases, it may be necessary to accept that you will not be able to resolve any big underlying issues now (it is beneficial to remember others may be having a particularly stressful time).

• Consider reaching out to a trained professional to help you better. understand and sort out the emotions you have

• Be grateful for all that is good in your life, shifting the focus from that which is not.

3. Power down and unplug

Technology has improved our lives for the better and we all love it. But we must be mindful the perpetual beeps, dings, and screen time can make us anxious, elevate stress hormones and interfere with our sleep and living life (e.g., connecting with others, enjoying the moment). During the holiday season, take active efforts to turn off these gadgets or put them away—both adults and children—so you can celebrate those precious times with your family and loved ones.

4. The “Winter Blues”

As the days grow shorter, and darkness hits earlier, nearly 25 million Americans may experience a mood shift, otherwise referred to as the “winter blues.” Another 10 million will develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a more severe form that interferes with enjoyment of life. While the mechanism is not completely understood, it is believed the decrease in sunlight affects our mood — sadness, irritability, decreased energy levels and difficulty concentrating or sleeping.

To ease these symptoms, spend time outdoors or near a window on sunny days, or ask your doctor about photo therapy (a treatment using a box that emits full-spectrum light) — in addition to staying physically active, consuming a healthy diet, and getting good sleep. If your symptoms are severe, it is important to get professional help.

5. Stick to a budget

Between gifts for our loved ones, co-workers, teachers and others — and let’s not forget hosting holiday parties, traveling, charitable giving and decorations — it is easy to deplete our bank accounts and max out our credit cards. Doing so can create stress that will continue into the new year. Research shows the best way to manage holiday spending is by creating a budget and staying committed to it. When it comes to shopping for presents, think outside the “gift” box. The best presents are not the most expensive, but the most thoughtful.

6. Stay active

This is a “need-to-do” item that should not wait until the new year. Start now. The physical benefits of exercise to our heart, immune function and other organs are undeniable. Exercise is also a great weapon against stress. Physical activity boosts endorphin production — molecules in our body that elevate our mood, dissipate anxiety, improve sleep and function as natural painkillers. And for those who feel they cannot start an exercise regimen at this time, studies have shown that just five minutes of aerobic exercise can have powerful anti-anxiety effects.

7. Bolster lowered defenses

During the holiday season, you’re more likely to get run down by increased obligations, more errands and more output. Add to this — if it’s cold, that means we are more likely to huddle indoors with recirculated heat to keep us warm, thereby creating a perfect storm when it comes to increasing our exposure to other people’s germs, including influenza virus. It is important that you boost your defense system by eating healthy, getting good sleep and staying hydrated. And protect yourself from germs floating in the air and lurking on surfaces by washing your hands before eating or touching your eyes, nose or mouth and after using the restroom.

8. Remember, you can step away from the holiday madness

Take a break! (Reread this one several times so you have it.) There is a lot pressure to do this and respond to that — and often with the idealized notions of sugar plum, perfect holidays dancing in our heads. Stop the madness. Stop the illusions and crazy, demanding output. Take a break and pace yourself, because your health and well being matter. Do the best you can, including reframing to enjoy your moments. And remember, you are not responsible for everyone’s happiness. They need to make that choice in the moment for themselves. And after you take a break, if needed, ask for help.

Just when you think your life is stressful enough, the holidays roll around. When is the last time you took a relaxing break? When do you find time to recharge? Are any of the demands of the season knocking at your door?

Take aim now to simplify and to focus on enjoying these holiday moments instead of letting the busyness and all the things and thoughts distract you. Take these steps and be mindful (daily) to manage the holiday madness that tries to rob you of your joy.

And remember, it’s often when the realities of day-to-day life conflict with your best efforts to make the holiday season perfect, that stress results. The holidays can drive you to your breaking point at moments, but don’t focus on the bad. Negative thinking can trigger your body’s stress response, just as a real threat does.

My hope for you is that these tips will help you enjoy your holidays! From my home to yours, sending warm wishes — with bah-humbugs to stress!

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