Seven Tips for Dealing With Holiday Stress

How can the holidays be here? Wasn’t it just yesterday we were helping our kids with their Halloween costumes or gearing up for a robust 4th quarter? We know the winter holidays arrive the same time each year, yet our perception of time begs to differ. It is just the beginning of December and we are already gasping for oxygen. With much to do and little time to do it, stress sets in.

Stress is a part of life. There is positive stress, that can fuel us, and negative stress that runs amuck in our mind/body. “Negative stress” is perceiving the external event, in this case, “the holidays”, as a real threat or danger to our life (OK, some of you with dysfunctional families may be chuckling here). Our body automatically goes into a biological reaction of fight, flight or freeze, readying us to defend ourselves against harm. Even though the holidays are not “life threatening”, your body goes into the same response as if it was.

Stress is the #1 factor contributing to illness, disease, relationship difficulties and business conflict. It effects our energy levels, mood states, ability to function optimally and the quality of our relationships. Stress piles up over time like a stack of unopened mail. Before you know it, you’re feeling burdened, overwhelmed and dare I say, avoidant and crappy.

It’s no wonder holiday stress has increased. The pace and complexity of our lives has increased. Our schedules are packed, our electronic devises and social media platforms demand constant attention, our to do list reads like a child’s Santa list, and on a more sobering note, more people in our personal and business families are challenged with health issues, mental health conditions, or are facing personal loss and tragedy. Our mind, body, emotions and spirit are impacted. Stress accumulates.

Managing stress is an essential skill set. As Charles Darwin said decades again, “It is not the strongest or the fittest that survive, it is the ones that can adapt to the environment.”   I offer you a seven strategies for coping with holiday stress.

1.     Mindset. Your thoughts and perception determine your outlook, feelings, behavior and outcomes. Set your mind and orient it towards what you want the holidays to be. Visualize it. Your feelings follow your thoughts that then determine your behavioral choices. This is science. Start it today.

2.     Downsize the Holidays. The holidays are now supersized. Choose to scale it down by cutting back on one holiday tradition, re: holiday decorations, holiday cards, baking, cooking or entertaining. 

3.     Maintain your Self-Care Routine. Now is the time to be consistent with your exercise, good nutrition, rest and sleep. To keep up with the pace of the holidays and to maintain a healthy immune system, your first defense to combating stress, are your healthy routines.

4.     Conscious Breathing. When feeling anxious, down or overwhelmed, conscious breathing is a powerful tool to calm down the overreactive brain and nervous system. Take a 2-minute time out, close your eyes, inhale and intentionally breath, bringing oxygen to your cells and body. It is an immediate stress buster.

5.     Manage your energy.  You may want to say yes to all the social invites and holiday business functions yet now is the time to tune in to your energetic capacity and modulate your energy. Know your limits on what you physically and emotionally can do. Respect your body or illness and burnout can occur.

6.     Commit to a 10-minute Renewal Routine. Choose a timeframe, morning or evening, and take ten minutes each day, to reset your mind and body with a simple “feel good” routine. Seek a place of quiet in your home or office. Choose to: breath, mediate, stretch, read an inspiring passage, write in your journal or listen to music with your headphones. You can afford 10 minutes of Self time. Reconnect and recharge.

7.     Gratitude. A grateful heart and a mind oriented towards appreciation, calms the brain and nervous system, opens the heart and gets us in touch with what matters. Be thankful, show appreciation, have an attitude of gratitude.

Dr. Suzanne Nixon, owner of Northern Virginia Integrative Therapy, is a psychotherapist and integrative health coach practicing in Lansdowne.

Dr. Suzanne