The winter holidays can bring feelings of happiness, love, and genuine joy. But for millions of Americans they also bring unhealthy stress levels that can negatively impact your body and mind.
Dr. Judy Kuriansky, a noted New York-based psychologist, tells Newsmax Health it’s important to come up with strategies for managing holiday stress, beginning with keeping perspective and balance between now and New Year’s Day.
“The key to making this season happy — and maybe for the first time in your adult life — is to examine the triggers that cause your stress and diffuse them before they explode,” Kuriansky says.
“And that means being honest with yourself and your limitations. We all know the serenity prayer that reminds us to know the difference between what we can control and what we can’t. The source of discontentment during this busy season is not being realistic — not truly seeing our situation for what is, and expecting people and things to change.”
According to a report compiled by the American Psychological Association, holiday stress has the greatest impact on women who customarily take charge of many of the holiday celebrations — particularly the tasks of preparing the meals and decorating the home.
Women are also most likely to be the ones shopping for and wrapping gifts. They have a harder time relaxing during the holidays and are more likely to fall into bad habits to manage their stress, like comfort eating.
“Studies show that our appetite for sweets increases quite dramatically when we experience chronic stress which makes the holiday season prime time for expanding your waistline,” Dr. Heidi Hanna, executive director of the American Institute for Stress, tells Newsmax Health. “Don’t deprive yourself of the occasional treat but practice eating slowly, calmly and mindfully.”
Financial stress, especially in times of economic woes, can also wreak havoc in families struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. Lack of money, lack of time and the hype and commercialism of the holiday season play upon the emotions and may cause family discord instead of harmony.
These startling statistics tell the story. When people were asked what feelings they experienced most during the holiday season, they reported:
- Fatigue — 68 percent
- Stress — 61 percent
- Irritability — 52 percent
- Sadness — 36 percent
- Anger — 35 percent
- Loneliness — 26 percent
In fact, the APA reports that nearly three-quarters of the people surveyed say that they experience stress levels that exceed what they define as healthy.
Here are some more interesting statistics.
- Americans spend about $525 billion over the holiday season with online spending increasing 12 percent annually.
- The average person spends just under $1,200 over the holidays including food, gifts and travel.
- At least 23 percent of holiday expenses are charged to a credit card with over 6 million people borrowing to pay for Christmas each year.
- One third of bankruptcies filed in March is caused by overspending at Christmas.
To keep your financial house in order, keep an open dialogue with family and friends about gift giving. Many families draw names from a hat and chose one person to gift which dramatically cuts down holiday costs.
In addition to financial stresses, the holidays can boost family tensions. Not every family is blessed with Brady Bunch dynamics. Getting together during the holiday season can cause massive stress.
“Food is a huge issue,” says Kuriansky. “When families sit at the table together, all of a sudden they’re all kids again fighting over who gets the drumstick, who is being a glutton or who is not eating enough. We all become little children again with petty fighting and grievances.”
Acknowledging these dynamics is the first step to reversing negative consequences.
“For example, if your super critical sibling once again mentions how dry the turkey is, be prepared to ignore her.” advises Kuriansky. “This year, shine the light of your attention on something positive and simply flip the switch when she begins her usually criticisms. Things only bother us if we give them our attention. So make that shift from annoyance to gratitude.”
Here are more quick tips from the American Psychological Association:
Take time for yourself. There may be pressure to be everything to everyone but remember that you are only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Take a long walk, get a massage, or simply put your feet up and listen to fine music.
Don’t neglect your physical health. If you have a regular exercise routine, don’t give it up. Exercise releases natural feel-good hormones that can combat stress.
Set realistic expectations. No Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza or any other holiday celebration is perfect. Look at the inevitable mistakes or mishaps as opportunities to demonstrate resilience and flexibility. Learn to let go of perfectionist idealism because it does not exist.
Volunteer. What better way to appreciate what you’ve got than to help others who have less? You can “adopt” a less fortunate family and make their holiday shine. You can wrap gifts for foster children, serve at a soup kitchen, volunteer at homeless shelter, or participate in a giving tree celebration that benefits communities at large.
Remember what’s important. The barrage of holiday advertising can make us forget what the holiday season is really about. When your expense list is running longer than your monthly budget, scale back and remind yourself that what makes a great celebration is family, not store-bought presents, elaborate decorations, or gourmet food.
Seek support. Talk about your feelings of anxiety with friends and family. Getting things out in the open can help you navigate through the holiday season with less resentment and anger. In addition, being honest with your loved ones can help find a solution for your stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consider seeking a professional to help you manage your holiday stress.
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