5 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

Holiday shopping for everyone on your list. Social functions at work and home. Traveling to visit friends and relatives.  A financial squeeze on your wallet. All of these activities this time of year, even when welcomed and enjoyed, can be taxing and take a toll. As a result, the holidays can stress our bodies, both physically and emotionally.

So what’s the key to staying stress-free while getting through a long to-do list and fulfilling all of those commitments during “the most wonderful time of the year?”

Elizabeth Skjoldal, Ph.D., an oncology psychologist with Cancer Support Services at Miami Cancer Institute, offers these tips:

  1. Have a plan. Think through a time-frame for everything that’s on your schedule, she suggests. Look at all of the dates for which activities are planned and develop a timeline for what you have to do and by when. Planning this way will help avoid having to run around preparing at the last minute.
  2. Listen to your body. Does running around from place to place suddenly have you feeling tired?  It’s your body trying to tell you to slow down, Dr. Skjoldal says.

“Take a break and rest,” she says. “The next day will be there for you to do what you need to.”

  1. Focus on being instead of doing. So much attention during the holidays is put on constantly doing something, from shopping to socializing and giving gifts. Being so busy can make you lose focus on the true meaning of the actual holiday that’s meant to be celebrated, Dr. Skjoldal says.

“If you’re not present wherever you’re at, you’re not doing any good for yourself or those around you,” Dr. Skjoldal said.

  1. Take care of your physical self. Keeping a regular sleep, meal and exercise schedule goes a long way toward keeping stress at bay. There are actually serious health conditions known to spike around the holidays.

Holiday Heart Syndrome” is used to describe a significantly abnormal heart rhythm that happens after heavy alcohol consumption in people without heart disease. Drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time, or binge drinking, can irritate the heart muscle and trigger a disturbance in the way the heart beats, most commonly resulting in atrial fibrillation (a-fib). The condition goes away after abstaining from using alcohol.

And more people die from heart attacks during the holidays than other times of the year. The number of heart-related deaths in the U.S. increases by 5 percent during the December and New Year holidays, researchers have found.  According to another study, daily visits to hospitals for heart failure can increase by 33 percent during the four days after Christmas.

  1. Take time to reflect. Think about all of the good – and the bad – things that happened during the year and try to learn from all of them, Dr. Skjoldal suggests. Consider what went well and give yourself credit. Acknowledge what didn’t go so well and think about how you might handle the situation differently next time, she says. Then look for opportunities in the next year to help others.

“An important lesson I’ve learned in working with cancer patients is the value of taking one day at a time,” Dr. Skjoldal said. “When someone’s survived cancer, the journey they’re going through helps them realize what things mean the most. Taking the time during the holidays to reflect on milestones they’ve achieved is important to cancer patients. They’ve taught me that the gift of life is truly a gift in itself.”

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