There’s no doubt the holidays can be a time for family, fellowship and memories. Unfortunately, those things often don’t come together without at least a little bit of stress in preparation and planning for holiday festivities. A 1999 study from Circulation journal even suggested the overindulgence of the holidays coupled with seasonal stress could be a major contributor for the significantly increased risk of fatal heart attacks throughout December and January. Feeling stressed yet? Here are some great strategies and tips from stress experts to help you enjoy the holidays and what’s important.

  1. Give Yourself a Break
    1. Treat Yourself: Domar suggests buying yourself a small gift for every ten gifts you buy for others. “I might go with a little Godiva truffle or a Dave Barry calendar—nothing expensive, just a little pick-me-up.” Regular exercise, a soak in a hot tub or a solitary evening of soothing music might also fit the bill.
    2. Prioritize Events: Take a good, hard look at all the holiday events and consider quality over quantity. Rather than making sure you or your family hit all the holiday hot spots, allow each child to select two events to focus on and enjoy the season.
    3. Stretch the Season: With your calendar hopping in December, it’s typically followed up by the month of January where social activities come to a grinding halt. Why not schedule that annual holiday bash in early or mid-January? You can still keep a holiday theme and make it fun by having guests share their tackiest gift they received.
  2. Eat Wisely to Curb Hunger and Tension
    1. Carbs=mood changer: During times of high stress, nutritional biochemist Judith Wurtman suggests choosing a snack containing at least 30 grams of carbohydrates. Possible snacks could include a handful of pretzels or a few Tootsie Rolls or jellybeans. The carbohydrates stimulate serotonin, a powerful brain chemical that induces calmness. Oddly enough, a snack to avoid would be fruit as fructose hasn’t been shown to stimulate serotonin levels.
    2. Eat Mini-Meals: If you’re feeling like you can’t escape the holiday stress, try eating several small meals during the day instead of bigger meals. When you eat stress-reducing foods, the effects typically only last 2-3 hours so choose your meal times wisely and try to keep your calories around the same amount.
    3. Focus and Fix Your Stressors: It’s a vicious cycle; stress causes people to eat more and crave richer foods which can lead to weight gain and create MORE stress. Wurtman comments, “It’s better to prevent or deflect the stress than have to deal with it.” Use those slivers of free time to meal prep and work ahead to prevent last-minute pizza pick-ups and bingeing on holiday treats.
  3. Learn How to Have More Fun with Less
    1. Give Gifts that Money Can’t Buy: Tight on money this holiday season? Who isn’t?! Challenge yourself to think outside the box rather than purchasing that generic, department store gift. Create family memories with a recording of a grandparent reminiscing about past holidays, make coupons redeemable for back rubs or homemade brownies, or considering a donation to a local charity in someone’s name.
    2. Omit Overspending: According to a 1999 study by the American Bankers Association, it takes an average of four months to pay off holiday bills for the average credit card user. Challenge yourself to stick to a budget by determining how much you can afford for each person’s gift and putting that money in an envelope; when the money is gone, you’re done.
    3. Find Your Personal Bliss: Maybe your idea of a truly remarkable holiday season is to have some time for just you and those you’re closest with. Consider carving out some time to retreat and escape the frenetic pace of the holidays whether it be a weekend away or a week-long escape to a cabin in the woods to truly cherish some one-on-one time with the people who matter the most.

Blog Written By: Amber Hughes, Community Health and Wellness Coordinator 

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