Tips on managing holiday stress

December 18, 2013 

You have your holiday season planned out: shopping for gifts, baking holiday treats, attending holiday parties and adding the finishing touches to your home decorations. But what about the plan to manage your stress and protect your health?

The hustle and bustle of the holidays can leave us feeling frantic and exhausted. Small bouts of stress can help us generate that extra bit of energy to meet a deadline at work or finish a last-minute project; however, chronic stress can negatively affect our emotional and physical health.

Rather than letting stress put a damper on your holiday, be proactive and create a plan to prevent the holiday blues.

First, identify your stress triggers and how stress affects you. Family gatherings with difficult family members may make some people tense, while noisy, crowded shopping malls may initiate stress in others. When you are stressed, think about how stress affects your actions and ability to perform everyday tasks.

Stress may cause individuals to eat to calm down, drink alcohol in excess, smoke, procrastinate, oversleep, withdraw from others or complete tasks haphazardly.

Once you have identified your stress triggers and how stress affects you, write the information down in a location where you will see it frequently. The act of writing and the ability to view your triggers and resulting actions will increase your awareness of situations that induce tension and stress.

Second, think about and write down healthy coping mechanisms that cause you to relax and feel calm.

Beneficial methods for dealing with stress include listening to peaceful music, meditation, visualizing pleasant scenes and experiences, spending time with a loved one, participation in a favorite hobby, deep breathing exercises and physical activity. A simple deep breathing exercise that can immediately help induce calmness can be performed as outlined below:

• Sit in a chair, being sure to keep your back straight.

• Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach.

• Begin to concentrate your thoughts on your breathing pattern.

• Inhale slowly through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise, while the hand on your chest should barely move.

• Exhale slowly through your mouth and push out as much air as possible, while contracting your abdominal muscles.

• Continue this pattern of breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

If you require movement and activity to help you relieve stress and induce calming endorphins, remember that a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity is needed at least five days per week to help prevent chronic disease. The 30 minutes of activity can be broken down into 10 minute segments. You can easily work three 10 minute segments of movement into your day by parking further away from the shopping mall, taking the stairs at work or playing a short game of basketball with a friend or young child.

Last but not least, be sure to complete your stress prevention plan by adding a reflection step. After a stressful event occurs, take the time to evaluate your plan by answering the following questions:

• Was I able to identify my stress trigger in the situation?

• How long did it take me to notice that my actions changed once I was stressed?

• How did my healthy coping mechanism affect my stress level?

• How would I change my plan to improve how I respond to and alleviate stress in the future?

By creating and implementing this three-step stress prevention plan, you can make the most of your holiday season and keep your health out of jeopardy.

Rebecca Creasy is the Houston County Extension agent for food and nutrition and family and consumer sciences. Contact her at 478-987-2028 or beccac@uga.edu.

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