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Stress the Halls

Stateman Journal Living Well - December 2015

Stress the Halls

The holidays are often romanticized as a time of merriment, family and dazzling décor for hearth and home – but the pursuit of this ideal can turn the most wonderful time of the year into the most stressful. Family dynamics, financial strain and keeping up with the Joneses can cast a shadow over a time that – with a few coping mechanisms - can be as magical as it is intended to be.

Everything about wintertime tells our primitive minds to slow down – plants and animals hibernate - but the holidays try to convince us to ramp up our activity. Acting against our nature in this way causes stress to the body and mind. Each year, it seems the holiday season gets a little longer. Back-to-school oozes into Halloween, which morphs into Thanksgiving, then Hanukah, Christmas and New Year's Eve in a never-ending retail frenzy. The first step to dealing with holiday stress is to take it one holiday at a time. Don't allow the influence of store displays to force your attention to the next occasion and then the next; instead, focus on the holiday immediately in front of you, wholeheartedly. Enjoying the present can help ease the pressure of what's next.

Mindfulness is key in moderating your behaviors and controlling emotions during stressful times.

  • Set expectations and a budget. Overspending can be a source of angst that lasts well beyond the holidays. Make a budget and stick to it. Talk to your kids about what to realistically expect for gifts.
  • Make connections. Stable, supportive relationships are important for mental health and are also instrumental in preventing chronic disease. Spend more time with people that make you happy.
  • Set boundaries. It's important to have friends and family in your life, but it's even more important that you spend the majority of your time on the relationships that are good for you. Not all friends and family are well, friendly. Give yourself permission to set suitable boundaries with people that are detrimental to your stress level. It's also okay to decline party invitations and to say "no" every once in a while. You don't have to do everything!
  • Watch your alcohol intake. Alcohol is a depressant, so if you're already feeling the winter blahs, a cocktail may not be the answer. If you go to a party, limit yourself to a drink or two, and stick with it. Better yet, offer to be the designated driver.
  • Watch your weight. Maintaining a healthy diet in the face of all those yummy treats will not only make you feel better in the short term, but getting through the holidays without adding winter bulk will elevate your mood this spring. Have a treat or two, but remember – moderation!
  • Take care of yourself. Physical and emotional stress can put you at risk for colds and flu so make sure you get a little exercise, or maintain your current routine. Take time out to sit quietly, meditate, do yoga or read – anything that gives you respite from the hustle and bustle and makes you feel centered.

For some people, the "holiday blues" are manageable with thoughtful behaviors—agree to have a support person you can share your feelings and experiences.   For others, this time of year triggers more intense depression. The holiday season coincides with the changing of seasons; many people are affected by weather and daylight to some degree by a type of depression known as (SAD). SAD and other depressive disorders can be treated with photo therapy, counseling or antidepressants. Talk to your provider if you are losing sleep, feel hopeless, have changes in appetite or can't seem to get motivated to participate in activities you normal enjoy.

If you have suicidal thoughts, call 1 (800) 273-8255--National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or if you have or are ready to act, call 9-1-1.