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Three top tips for managing holiday stress

Monday, November 14, 2016

Boy sitting in front of tree

Holidays can be the best of times, the worst of times or a combination of both.

For many of us, high expectations for holiday joy clash with the realities of dealing with family, finances, and other situations that lead to additional stress, anxiety and depression. The highest demand for behavioral health services is the period following the holidays.

Nadjeh Awadallah, Ed.D., L.C.P.C., community liaison of Northwest Community Healthcare’s (NCH) Behavioral Health Program, says it is important to set realistic expectations. If you have considered the holiday season stressful in the past, you should expect the same feelings this year.”

Awadallah says stressors come in all forms, but ones common to the holidays include:

  • Time – Squeezing holiday shopping, traveling, parties, cooking, baking or other seasonal activities to an already hectic schedule can result in feeling overwhelmed.
  • Money – Holiday spending for gifts, travel and get-togethers can stress the mind as well as your finances.
  • Sharing space – Having family or friends in your home for a day or a week disrupts routines.
  • Tests – For students, mid-terms often fall into the holiday season and create performance and time pressure.

It is important to prepare yourself to manage situations or people who make you feel stressed or anxious. “Be prepared and have a strategy,” Awadallah says. “Do positive self-talk, identify neutral physical space and know your emotional triggers.”

Triggers can include people who can create feelings of uncertainty (unpredictable behavior) or situations that make you feel are not fair (such as feeling one sibling is favored by a parent).

By planning ahead, Awadallah says you can create a less stressful holiday season by doing the following.

  • Breathe – Inhale and fill your lungs with oxygen as you count to four. Then, hold your breath for one beat and then slowly exhale for four counts. This way of breathing turns down the brain’s fight or flight response and it triggers a relax response.
  • Sleep hygiene – Sleeping well improves mood and the ability to manage stress.
  • Exercise – Whether it is a brisk walk or getting to the gym, physical activity burns off adrenaline and improves mood and feelings of well-being.

Feeling stressed? NCH has online screening tools to help you assess your stress level and improve your well-being.

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