How You Can Identify and Reduce Stress This Holiday

‘Tis the Season to Be Stress-Free

Hanna Kim - December 24, 2018

Feeling stressed this holiday season? You’re not alone. According to a poll conducted by Very Well Mind, more than 80% of us feel ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ stressed by the holidays, ranking holiday stress just as high as the anxiety that might come paired with asking your boss for a raise.

There are many reasons stress levels may go up during the holidays. We may worry about end of the year deadlines, upcoming taxes, and budgeting for personal travel and presents on top of that. Because stress can present in so many different ways, it’s important to identify how your stress manifests. Stress can show up as emotional, physical, cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

Emotional Symptoms of Stress

  • Trouble relaxing your mind
  • Negative feelings towards yourself such as worthlessness and low self-esteem
  • Feeling a lack of control or overcompensating with the need to take more control
  • Quick to feel frustrated or easily agitated
Physical Symptoms of Stress

  • Lack of energy
  • Pain, including headaches and chest pain
  • Tension in muscles; clenching and grinding teeth during sleep and/or daytime
  • Trouble with sleep
  • Digestive issues: diarrhea, constipation, nausea or upset stomach
Cognitive Symptoms of Stress

  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of focus
  • Racing thoughts
  • Poor decision making, such as increased impulsive actions
Behavioral Symptoms of Stress

  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Avoidance of responsibilities; procrastination
  • Coping mechanisms such as use of alcohol, tobacco, cigarettes
  • Increase in nervous habits including fidgeting, pacing, or biting nails
It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the abundance of things that normally make us happy can create additional stress too. This “positive” stress, known as eustress to researchers, can still negatively impact our mental and physical health. Maxing out your calendar with holiday events and overindulging on decadent desserts and alcohol can come with consequences like weight gain, embarrassing situations, and additional debt.

Instead of letting the holidays take control of your life, take control of your actions and make a plan that will help you breeze through the holiday fun.

Plan Your Holiday Calendar

Set up a calendar for yourself and block out hours for all your holiday plans. Having a visual reference of obligations like traveling to visit family and friends, shopping for gifts, and baking cookies can show you what’s realistic and not during this busy month. Find activities you can say no to, or reduce your contribution towards. Remember you still have ongoing everyday needs to fulfill as well, like going to work and practicing self-care.

Maintain Good Self-Care Habits

Remember to make time to maintain your self-care routine during the holidays. Continue with an exercise regimen, and get outdoors when you can. Getting sunlight and fresh air in the winter is important, especially if you are prone to suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. If extreme temperatures prohibit you from getting outside, do an indoor workout in the morning by sunny window.

Gift yourself a massage to help yourself unwind. More Americans now view massage therapy as self-care than luxury service; over 70% get one primarily for medical or stress-related reasons. The science of touch has received more attention in recent years; the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School has now conducted over 100 studies on the benefits of massage against depression and anxiety, reduced stress hormones, and increased immunity and pain relief.

Give yourself time to recognize your stressors and how you personally react to stress. Make a holiday plan so that you can reduce your exposure to increased stress as well as making time to destress.

Take a Breath and Breathe

It’s good to schedule regular times where you can take time to rest your mind and body. Pencil in an hour to complete a yoga nidra meditation or even short 15-minute breaks between your holiday duties to take a breath.

Many of us forget how to breathe, or find difficulty taking deep breaths when we feel stress. Begin noticing your stress symptoms, and how when you have those symptoms you may not be breathing as well as you can. Take a few moments to pause to help yourself regulate your breath so you can go back to enjoying the winter holiday.
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