For many of us, the holiday season can quickly become anything but holly jolly.
With flights to book, family visits to organize, elaborate meals to prep, and a mountain of presents to wrap, the tasks that come along with the holidays can actually take a significant toll on our mental and physical health.
In fact, according to a 2015 survey by Healthline, a whopping 62% of respondents perceive the holidays to be “very” or “somewhat stressful.”
What steps can you take to help cut down on your feelings of holiday stress? Here are a few recommendations from the experts…
1.) Plan Ahead
Doctors and other health professionals agree that getting tackling your holiday season “to-dos” early may help you avoid feeling overwhelmed later.
The staff of the Mayo Clinic recommends setting aside specific days for shopping, cooking, and seeing friends; the more confident you are in your plans early on, the less you’ll need to worry over finding time for everything or changing your game plan later.
To that end, it may also help to plan out your menus, holiday budget, and shopping lists in advance, in order to avoid money-related worries – or a desire to splurge big and “buy happiness” – later.
With all of that being said, it may also help to adjust your expectations about the holiday season, and to not be afraid to say no. As Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, tells WebMD, “Ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing things that make me miserable?’ Think about the reasons.”
Duckworth then goes on to suggest that you draw up a list of reasons why you engage in certain holiday traditions, and then a list of reasons why you shouldn’t. Just making a simple pro and con list will remind you that you do have a choice.
Your friends, family, and colleagues will understand if you take some time to yourself. You don’t need to attend every single holiday gathering or event.
One last thing? Don’t be afraid to build in time for self-care! Block out personal time that’s just for you to schedule a massage, watch a favorite movie, read a book, or otherwise pamper yourself.
2.) Get Some Sun
For many millions of people, feelings of sadness and loneliness crop up every winter like clockwork, no matter how hard they try to avoid stressors.
For many, this is due to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which, as the Mayo Clinic points out, is often connected to fall and winter and is even sometimes known as “winter depression.” According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of SAD include low energy, overeating, and social withdrawal, along with the other symptoms of major depression, like feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness and trouble sleeping.
According to a report published in American Family Physician, as many as “4 to 6 percent of people may have winter depression, and “another 10 to 20 percent may have mild SAD.”
If you believe that you are affected by SAD, you may want to reach out to your physician or to a mental health professional, who may recommend a course of phototherapy. For more mild SAD, it may help to soak up the sun whenever possible.
Work near windows whenever possible, take walks outside on bright days, and be conscious of taking advantage of the light when you can – studies show that it can help release serotonin, reduce stress, and boost your vitamin D levels. And while we’re discussing Vitamin D, be sure to ask your doctor or chiropractor about folding Vitamin D supplements into your health regimen; sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D has been shown to help fight disease, improve bone health, and ward off depression.
3.) Keep Up Your Healthy Habits
Platters of Christmas cookies, cross-country flights, anxiety-inducing dinners with distant relatives… The everyday stressors of the holiday season add up. As they do, it’s easy to feel like cutting corners on your diet and fitness regimens.
While it may be tempting to slack off during the winter months, refocusing on your healthy diet and exercise habits may actually improve your mood and lower your stress levels. In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), exercise is the stress coping technique “most recommended by health care professionals.”
As the ADAA explains:
“Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.”
It doesn’t take much! Running, walking, yoga, playing sports with your family… All of these can help improve your physical and mental health.
Similarly, keeping up your healthy eating habits can help reduce your stress levels as the holiday season goes on. As WebMD puts it, “eating nutritiously is a good defense against stress.”
How do you manage holiday stress? What are you looking forward to this season? Is your health insurance policy a source of major anxiety? We’d love to hear from you! Drop us a line today to get the conversation started.