Your Health

Don’t let stress ruin your holiday season

Glucose monitor.
Photo of Donna Alden-Budgen KAREN L. KYLIUK
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, December 16, 2016

The festive season may be upon us, but that doesn’t mean everyone is having a good time.

In fact, research shows that most people report high levels of stress during this time of year.

Much of that can be attributed to the commercialism, financial pressures and family conflicts that can prevent us from enjoying the holiday season.  

Not surprisingly, research also shows that holiday stress can be detrimental to your health by comprising your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds, flu, and fatigue.

It is important to recognize the common pressures people can face and have a plan to manage them proactively. With that in mind, here are the top stressors of the holiday season – along with some tips on what you can do to avoid them:

1. Financial: Getting caught up in the commercialism of the season can be a real problem. Overloading credit cards to buy expensive gifts and/or holiday trips often leads to worry about paying the bills in the New Year. The key to managing this financial stress is to decide on a budget and stick to it. Be creative, and make small personalized gifts that are often more meaningful. Get older children and adults to agree to a gift exchange with a firm monetary limit or consider replacing the gift exchange with a collective fundraiser to raise money for local charities like hamper drives or local food banks.  

2. Relationships: Feeling obliged to attend a variety of social events and socialize with people you may not even like? Or perhaps you find yourself becoming a referee between family members who just don’t get along. The solution here is to create a social calendar. Choose and decline festivities based on your preferences, and space out the social gatherings so they are manageable. It is okay to say “no” if you are feeling over extended and suggest a post-holiday party instead. Unresolved family conflict does complicate the holidays so if possible make a pact ahead of time for a peaceful event or use distractions such as games or singing carols to keep the mood playful and festive.

3. Time crunch: This can especially be an issue for women as they prepare for the holidays by shopping, baking, decorating, dealing with over-excited youngsters, and then feeling it is just not good enough! Manage this stress by taking a moment to stop, review your lists and expectations, and then prioritize. Remind yourself why you do all these things to begin with – to celebrate the joy of the season and enjoy time with loved ones. If you can, plan ahead. Mobilize your supports: bake with friends and divide up the goodies, simplify details like decorating or gift wrapping and wherever possible delegate easier tasks to children or other family members.

4. Overindulgence: Along with the festivities often comes eating more fatty food, sugary treats, and an increase in alcohol consumption. Try offering some healthy appetizers before the large dinner and include non-alcoholic beverages. After dinner, include a fun physical activity such as tobogganing, street hockey or a family snow ball fight. Be responsible and plan ahead for transportation to eliminate the risk of drinking and driving so everyone stays safe.

5. Emotional: Even good life moments can be stressful and emotions tend to be heightened or even conflictual during the holidays. Feelings of love, joy and appreciation can be met with reminders of loved ones lost, regrets or sadness. Emotional stress can also be related to unrealistic expectations of what you think your holiday celebrations “should be.” Studies show that having depressed feelings during the holidays is quite common and reaching out to people who are alone is important. Volunteering has reciprocal benefits. By spending time with people who are isolated not only brightens their holiday season it will also lift your spirits. Expressing kindness and generosity towards others is a proven stress reliever and instant mood enhancer.

It is also important to take some time for yourself. Stress relievers such as going for a walk in the snow, listening to quiet music, or taking a few deep breathes can help you refresh.

Remember, the holiday season is a time for togetherness and joy. Following these tips will help you manage stress and allow you to be fully present in mind, body and spirit so you can build precious memories while celebrating the most wonderful time of the year.

Karen L. Kyliuk is a mental health resource and education facilitator with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Dec. 16, 2016.

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