While some people welcome the holiday season with anticipation, others find that the shopping, the spending, and the pressure to be merry can quickly turn seasonal spirit into stress. A certain amount of stress can be a good thing-it keeps us on track and acts as a trigger for self-improvement. However, excessive or overwhelming amounts of stress are counterproductive and unhealthy, and can cause or aggravate conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, and depression. This holiday season, keep in mind the following tips for staying stress-free and in good mental health:
Don’t overextend yourself. Be realistic with your time. Trying to attend every holiday gathering can be nearly impossible. To help conquer holiday stress, prioritize your visiting and allow yourself to politely decline invitations.
Set reasonable goals. The holidays are often a time when peoples’ perfectionist tendencies emerge. If your to-do list is growing out of control, take a deep breath and remember that the holidays do not hinge on your ability to find the perfect gift or prepare the perfect meal. Instead, simplify your life by emphasizing sharing and togetherness.
Make a gift instead. Gifts hand-made by a loved one are far more valuable than something found on a department store rack, for both the recipient and the giver. Making gifts preserves the spirit of the holidays (and, as an added benefit, will probably save you money). “It’s more special when you make a gift for someone,” says Angie Potaczek, Family Service Art Therapist. “Making a personalized gift gives the person who makes it a sense of pride and achievement, and the person who receives it knows that it’s from the heart.”
Get some exercise. A great deal of stress and anxiety can be dispelled with a little physical activity-especially the aerobic kind. Jogging, swimming, cycling and walking benefit the body by boosting metabolism and immunity, raising endorphin levels, and providing a physical outlet for accumulated stress. Staying fit also enables the body to better cope with the physical demands of stress.
Take a minute for yourself. If the stress of the season is causing you to reach your breaking point, take a minute (or an hour) to relax, refocus, and re-energize. Allow yourself some time to indulge in a favorite pastime. Take a walk in the park if the crowds at the mall are getting to you. Turn off your phone to get some peace and quiet. Or simply take a nap. For the go-getter who thrives on accomplishing goals, read some of that book you never quite got around to finishing. Remember, taking care of yourself is not selfish. Good health, both mental and physical, should be a priority on your to-do list year-round.
Sid Wax, LCSW, ACSW
Clinical director, Family Service & Mental Health Center