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If your stress feels overwhelming or persists after the holidays, it might be time to talk to a doctor. Still searching for a doctor? Click here to browse NCH's online physician directory, which is easily searchable by name, specialty or location.

'Tis the Season for Stress

Don't let stress get the best of you this
holiday season

With the holidays around the corner, days becoming shorter and to-do lists growing longer, it's likely you're feeling frazzled. And to make matters worse, stress has a way of making you, well, more stressed! Did you know that it can also harm your health?

When you feel stress, you're experiencing reactions passed down from our ancestors—who were dealing with hazards more life-threatening than the decision to host a family holiday dinner. In general, though, the threats our ancestors faced were occasional. Today, stress is nearly constant, which can wear on our health. Headaches, irritability, gastrointestinal distress, increased drinking or smoking, muscle aches and pains, insomnia and feeling overwhelmed can all be signs that stress is taking a toll on your well-being.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

So why do so many of us feel stressed during the holiday season? External pressures such as time and financial limitations can weigh heavily on us. Plus, there are the internal pressures of handling unresolved family conflicts, feeling pressured by traditions and trying to make everything "perfect."

"It's important to set realistic expectations during the holidays," says Ronnie Schweit, MSW, NCH Mental Health Network. "Set goals that are within reach and accept that not everything has to be perfect—and that's OK."

Take Control

The National Mental Health Association suggests these other strategies to help reduce negative responses to stress:

  • Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
  • Take breaks throughout your day. Just 10 to 20 minutes of quiet time relieves chronic stress.
  • Share your feelings. Turn to friends and loved ones for support.
  • Practice and prepare. Imagine ways to handle a stressful situation. "Visual rehearsal" can help you picture a situation and defuse it before it happens.
  • Find perspective. Even complicated problems become more manageable when they are broken down into smaller parts.

Go Easy on Yourself

"If your time is limited, don't be afraid to ask family or friends to help out," says Schweit. "For example, ask relatives to bring a dish to share, or agree on a holiday grab bag instead of spending a lot of time and money on individual gifts."

The good news is that the holiday season is limited to a few weeks, which means there is a light at the end of the proverbial holiday tunnel. Once the holidays are over, though, if you're still feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious, it may signal an underlying problem. A visit to your primary care physician may be a great first step to resolving those issues.

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Last Updated 04/10/2009