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Your Health Blog

    Managing Holiday Stress

    Janie Chappell, RN, MSN Deaconess Cross Pointe 12/10/2014
    Stress and depression can make your holiday miserable. It’s common, particularly among women who are always feeling that they need to be “everything to everyone.” As a result, we neglect our own emotional and even physical well-being. Here are some tips on how to prevent and deal with stress and depression over the holidays.
    The most important tip in reducing stress is to exercise. Even just a few minutes a day can help eliminate the hormones produced by stress that cause the physical and emotional damage such as: increased blood pressure, heart disease, depression and immune-suppressive-related disorders that range from common cold to cancer. Speaking simply, stress is hard on our bodies and physical activity can help reduce that damage.
    Volunteering your time to help others is another good way to lift your spirits and meet other caring people. You can’t help but feel more encouraged when you help someone else. Also, seeing others who are less fortunate than ourselves can help give us a better perspective and help develop a sense of gratitude. Making a gratitude list of all the things that ARE going right can be very beneficial. Some people do it first thing in the morning or at night before going to bed. Being aware of all the things in life that you have to be grateful for can help you change your perspective.
    It’s important to acknowledge your feelings and not try to pretend they don’t exist. “Stuffing your feelings” only makes them compound and get bigger. Especially if there’s been a big change in the past year that will affect the holidays. The death of a loved one, a divorce, family issues, etc. can make the holidays difficult. Finding a support system with whom you can share those feelings without being judged—whether it’s a counselor, close friend, pastor, relative, etc.—can help make the feelings less powerful. Talking about feelings will lessen the impact on you and those around you. Journaling can be very helpful in identifying, channeling and alleviating emotions that are causing stress. Get yourself a designated notebook that you can devote to any kind of feelings and how they are affecting your life.

    I’ll suggest “be realistic”—even though that suggestion isn’t always realistic! Norman Rockwell doesn’t show up at my Christmas celebrations every year either. As families evolve and grow, traditions and rituals will change too. For example, as my kids have gotten older and have their own spouses, jobs, etc. and we find it increasingly difficult to get together to do all the things we USED to do. So we now pick and choose traditions that are most important to us. As a mother, I still struggle with that; however, I find that if I can do a gratitude list, it helps me a lot.
    Family Conflicts
    As far as family conflicts and challenges go, work on accepting people as they are. You know how hard it is to change anything about yourself—accept that you’re not going to be able to change anyone else. If you have some issues or disagreements that DO need to be worked through, save them for another time rather than during a family holiday. Also, cut people some slack. They could be having the same holiday stress too. Much of the time, when people respond out of stress, it’s more about how they’re feeling themselves than how they’re feeling about you, or about anything you did/didn’t do.
    Take care of yourself.
    I know we already mentioned exercise, but it also goes beyond that. Things like eating healthfully, minimizing sugar and alcohol intake, getting enough rest, and finding time to do the things you enjoy are all important. Enjoying some music, escaping into a good book, etc. can help. Relaxation techniques, which can be as simple as practicing deep breathing when you feel angry or down, taking yourself to a quiet place where you can meditate on a favorite experience or visualizing a special place you’ve been, etc. can help your mood and spirit.
    Learn to say no.
     Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. You can’t possibly do everything that is asked of you. When you’re asked to do something—whether it’s by a family member or a colleague, sometimes just saying, “Let me think about that and get back to you,” can be helpful. It buys you some time to think about whether you really want to do something or not, and it can help you figure out an acceptable way to say no, if that’s what you decide you want to.
    Planning Ahead
    The holidays are filled with expectations, certainly….social and financial especially. Plan ahead in terms of what activities and purchases are most important to you—budget your time AND your money. You won’t buy happiness by buying a truckload of gifts. In that same thought, you don’t buy happiness by spreading yourself so thin that you don’t have quality time with anyone you care about. You don’t have to say yes to every invitation if it will take time away from people you really care about. One question you may ask yourself is: “What is the most important use of my time and resources?” Then figure out how to align your actions with your priorities.
    If Holiday Stress Becomes Serious
    Prolonged stress CAN deplete some brain chemicals that affect mood, which can lead to a major depression. So how do you know if you’ve developed a more serious problem? If for more than 2 weeks you notice a deep sadness every day; you find you can’t gather the energy to take care of your activities of daily living; if you’re crying frequently; eating or sleeping more or less; and/or having thoughts of suicide, you need to talk to your doctor right away. If you’re prone to depression, or have been diagnosed in the past, it is even more important to pay particular attention to these signs and try to act before they become overwhelming.

    Some individuals may become extremely depressed or potentially suicidal due to the stresses and emotions of the holidays. If you or someone you know is struggling, please contact your doctor or contact Deaconess Cross Pointe at 812-476-7200 or 800-947-6789, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week—even on the holidays.
    Wrapping It Up
    The tips above are all things you CAN do to de-stress your holiday season. They may seem overly simplified or possibly unrealistic, but they are do-able! There is no magic answer for anyone. Try different tips to find the right balance for you so that this holiday season is fun of joy, peace, and good health!
    If you'd like more information on these or other behavioral health topics contact Janie at 812-471-4521 (direct line) or by calling Cross Pointe 812-476-7200 or 800-947-6789. You may also visit the Deaconess Cross Pointe website.
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