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November 29, 2011 > Don't Let Stress Spoil Your Holidays

Don't Let Stress Spoil Your Holidays

Take a Deep Breath and Make it a Season of Joy

The holidays are a time for family, friends and joyful celebrations. Unfortunately, the stress of pulling it all together can overshadow the happy times.

"This year, make it a point to focus on making good memories for you and the people you care about, particularly if you have children," said Paulette Grilli, R.N., Health Promotion Manager at Washington Hospital. "I know people who say they don't have good memories of the holidays as children because their parents were so stressed out. There is a lot going on during the holidays, but there are practical ways to keep it under control, enjoy happy times, and take good care of your health, both mentally and physically."

The number one way to reduce stress during the holidays is to manage expectations, according to Grilli. There are only so many hours in the day and everything doesn't have to be perfect, she added.

"Sometimes simplifying things is really the best way to go," she said. "Maybe you limit the number of activities you plan to attend or just buy fewer gifts.
Keep in mind that spending time with loved ones is also a treasured gift."

Also key to avoiding stress is to plan ahead and don't wait until the last minute to get things done, Grilli added. Make lists of what you need to accomplish, the gifts you plan to buy, and the meals you are going to prepare, she explained. If you are attending holiday gatherings or parties where you need to bring a dish, know ahead of time what that will be.

She suggested that you may even want to prepare meals in advance so that when you come home from a busy day of shopping, you have a healthy meal you can just heat and serve.

"It's particularly important not to procrastinate during the holidays, when there is so much to do," she said. "Give yourself plenty of time to get accomplished what you set out to accomplish. That way you can avoid that energy-draining panicked feeling."

Grilli added that if you do get that panicked feeling, just stop and take several deep breaths.

"Slow, deep breaths are nature's own relaxant," she explained. "Filling the body with oxygen actually helps to calm you down."

Take Good Care of Yourself

Staying on top of both your mental and physical health can also help. Normal routines and eating patterns often get disrupted during the holidays. But Grilli said it's important to maintain healthy routines as much as possible.

Make sure you exercise regularly, she recommended. It may be hard to get to the gym or get out and walk as often as you usually do, but there are ways to incorporate activity into your busy holiday schedule. Take the stairs and park far from the mall or grocery store, she suggested. Maybe you can enlist family and friends to join you on a hike before a holiday meal.

"Eating right, exercising, and getting a good night's sleep are so important for keeping stress levels down," she added. "If you aren't in the habit of exercising, maybe you can incorporate some physical activity into your holiday schedule - as simple as daily walking."

She said eating holiday treats is part of enjoying the season, but be careful not to overdo it. Indulge in moderation, including alcohol, and stay hydrated, especially if you are drinking alcohol.

"A lot of us like to eat high-calorie, rich food and drink during the
holidays," Grilli said. "But you need to keep it in check. Consuming too much alcohol at parties just makes you feel badly the next day, which often causes more stress."

You need to monitor how you are feeling and be kind to yourself, she added. If you are feeling particularly stressed or tired, maybe it's not the right time to go shopping and face the stressful crowds and traffic. Often it helps to keep positive thoughts and remind yourself of what is working well in your life, Grilli suggested. She calls it "self-talk."

"This line from Oprah Magazine I read a few years ago has stuck with me: 'All I want for Christmas is my sanity,"' Grilli said. "To me, that says it all. Give yourself the gift of sanity this holiday season and focus on what really matters."

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