Saturday, October 23, 2021

Mental Health Expert's 11 Ways to Reduce Holiday Season Stress


The holidays are right around the corner and this year do yourself a favor: have a plan to deal with all the stress that comes with the season. How do you best do that?


Dr. Fumi Stephanie Hancock, PsychDNP, is the CEO of POB Psychiatric Healthand a bestselling author of 24 self-help books. 


Her advice:


1.      Shop Now! Getting your shopping done early has always been a good idea, but especially so this year. There are global supply chain issues, barges loaded with containers backed up at docks, postal service slowdowns, among other issues. Make sure you give yourself an extra-large margin of safety when ordering packages and have a plan B in place in case of out-of-stocks. It will be a major stress relief to have shopping crossed off the to-do list early. 


2.      No Sweat- While the thesaurus doesn’t actually list “Holidays” as a synonym for “stress,” you wouldn’t be blamed for expecting it to be there. Holiday stress is as traditional as the holidays themselves, so don’t worry if you are one of the millions feeling it. Sure, there can be a lot of pressure from family, traveling, finances, etc., but just slowdown and breathe. Whether you feel like you don’t live up to your family’s unattainable standards, or you’d like to escape from them faster than the zombies on “The Living Dead,” just remember that you can do this. There are loads of relaxation exercises, deep breathing, counting to 10 (or 10,000), rhythmic pattern tapping, or whatever works. Try any of them, allow your stress to roll off of you and go forward with peace.


3.      Realistic Expectations- A huge source of holiday stress is feeling a need to please and make it a special time for everyone. The problem is that sometimes we can have goals that are so lofty that they are no longer realistic. This will inevitably lead to a disproportionately large sense of disappointment. It is okay if you don’t hold a gala ball in your living room or don’t hold your guest entranced while serving 5-star cuisine. Let yourself, and everyone else, off the hook and simply enjoy your time together. 


4.      The Day After (Light at the End of the Tunnel)- If you find yourself obsessively counting down the seconds until the holidays and stressing out about it, try to take your mind off of it by planning what to do after the holidays. The big day will still be there waiting, but some of the pressure may be released if it feels more like a stop on the road instead of a brick wall at a dead end that you won’t be able to pass.


5.      Focus on What Counts (presence, not presents)- While you want to find the special gift that perfectly fits each person, or you’d like to be the one who gave the most and biggest gifts, take a step back and focus on what really counts. The gifts are really just a gesture of love and appreciation. It’s having each other that is most important. 


6.      Appropriate Budget- Gifts are a lot of fun, but don’t go overboard. Not only will you stress yourself out if you put yourself in debt in order to finance the holidays, but you will very likely stress out your loved ones as well. Have an appropriate budget and ask everyone who will be there to do the same. Nobody needs to max out the credit cards in order to have a happy holiday.


7.      Diet & Exercise- The holiday stress can manifest itself in a number of ways, including mega doses of binge eating and drinking. These usually only make the stress worse. Give yourself a double dose of stress busting by exercising and eating right. Physical exercise releases endorphins, which make you feel great and reduce stress. Eating healthy foods in sensible portions will also help you feel better physically and mentally. 


8.      Gratitude- When feeling stressed out or plagued by anxiety over the “what-ifs,” take all that energy and redirect it. Focus instead on what you are grateful for. Let the positives rule your mental preoccupation and let yourself feel the gratitude wash over you. Stress will drain away instantly. 


9.      Grandma, the Dog & the Kids- With so many things to worry about doing yourself, don’t forget to make arrangements for children, pets, and any elderly relatives who might need special accommodations. Are you bringing the dog with you? Is there enough on hand to distract the kids when you’ll be busy cooking and wrapping gifts? Does everyone have their medicine and emergency contact numbers available? Take care of this early so there won’t be any unnecessary hassles later. 


10.   My Own Private Hawaii- Even when the stress level has far surpassed the known limits and you are incarcerated between Uncle Jim and Grandma Myrtle with no emergency exit door clearly marked, you still always have the ultimate escape hatch available. Simply close your eyes and let your mind take you to any location you wish. You can still be with the family physically, but mentally relaxing in the tropics or skiing in the Swiss Alps. Just have fun on your personal adventure and don’t let the family stress you out. 


11.   Donate and Volunteer- If you really feel stressed about the holidays, you may need to step back to reconsider how bad you actually have it. Chances are, there are many who are far more unfortunate than you. Donating money and volunteering your time will help you to become part of a cause much bigger than yourself. Not only will you be grateful for what you have, helping uplift others will be the best way to send stress packing and put a smile on your face that will last well past the holiday season. 

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