While the holidays are a time that we look forward to they can also be a time of stress. Recognizing key holiday triggers – relationships, finances and physical demands – and planning in advance how to manage them can pay off.
To ensure that you don’t decompensate this gift giving season, below I offer some tips on how to deal with holiday stress.
Prioritize What’s Important
If you’ve always hosted a holiday party, mailed cards, shopped for and wrapped gifts, and prepared the holiday meal, this year may be a good time to rethink your priorities. Participate in the activities you really enjoy but drop those that are less important. Be open to making changes in traditions as children grow older. If you’re hosting a party or meal, seek help from others. If you don’t have time to bake from scratch, buy desserts from your local bakery. No one will know the difference. Want to avoid writer’s cramp from mailing so many cards? Limit holiday cards to close family and friends. Worn out from attending parties? Be selective about which ones you attend.
With a frenzy of activity between Thanksgiving and the year-end, sometimes we lose sight of the meaning of the holidays. Remember, the purpose is to spend time with family. When I first met my husband (who is Jewish), he was reluctant to celebrate Christmas with my family. However, he quickly learned that our focus was on spending time together and not giving presents. It started on Christmas Eve when we donned coats and boots and ventured out into the cold New England woods to gather pine cones, berries, holly and other dried material. When we came back, we were each given a small pine log, glue gun, and sparkles to create a mini centerpiece (along with a glass of wine!). Later, each family member’s creation was placed on the dinner table and used as a name placard.
Manage Your Expectations
While it would be nice to think we were like the Cleavers on Leave it to Beaver or the Huxtabels on The Cosby Show, the portrayal of these two families is pretty far from reality. Throw in the holidays with high expectations and disappointment is bound to set in. Be realistic about what to expect from family members. Or, limit your family time. Instead of spending several days, cut it down to something more manageable. For some, feelings of sadness set in when we can’t visit family members who live far away. Acknowledge these feelings, recognizing that it’s ok to feel sad around the holidays. Visiting with close friends or helping others in need can help to redirect your feelings.
Limit Your Budget
The likelihood that you will spend more or buy impulse items is greater when you use a credit card vs. cash. If you have to charge a gift on a credit card and you don’t plan on paying it back by the statement date, then you shouldn’t buy the gift. To balance spending, develop a budget ahead of time and a list of items that you plan on purchasing. Then stick to it! If gift giving is getting out of control, think about picking names, setting a dollar limit, organizing a white elephant gift exchange or a planning a treasure hunt. Not sure if you can afford a gift? Watch or be a part of the Suze Orman show, Can I Afford it? Holiday Gifts Edition! Tune in Saturday evenings on MSNBC at 7:00 p.m.
Give Gifts to Feel Good About
The spirit of gift giving is often eclipsed by the sheer commercialization of the holidays by retailers. Vow this year to give a gift that counts by donating instead to a non-profit organization or charity. Making gifts is also another great way to show you care. Homemade gifts are often more affordable and more memorable than store bought gifts. For example, last year, I gave the gift of healthy food. As aging baby boomers, my siblings and I really don’t have the need for more stuff. We are all health-conscious and enjoy good quality food. But, each of us is strapped for time. So, I gave the gift of healthy soups. Each week, during January and February, I cooked a big pot of soup and delivered to family members. A year later, my siblings reminisce about their weekly soup deliveries during the dark, cold weeks of early winter.
Shop Online & Save
Over the past few years, Internet sales have grown rapidly especially during the holiday period as consumers become more comfortable and familiar with ordering online. You can’t beat the convenience and comparison pricing that shopping online offers. Not to mention not having to fight traffic, deal with inclement weather or crazed shoppers. Plus, most brick-and-mortar stores like Macy’s offer many of the same bargains and an even greater selection online. Look for specials, free shipping, gift with purchase, etc. Be sure to shop at sites that safely secure your credit card information. Many sites, like VitaMedica, are protected by VeriSign – the trusted leader in website transaction security.
Don’t Abandon Healthy Eating Habits
Whether you can’t resist latkes or Christmas cookies, the holidays make it difficult for even the most disciplined to stay on track. Like planning a budget, decide ahead of time what you can splurge on and what to resist. Recognize your limits. I love crackers and cheese but know that once I start, I can’t stop so I avoid this tray like the plague. Don’t go to a party famished. Eat an apple with a handful of walnuts ahead of time to curb your appetite. Studies show that the greater the food options available, as in a buffet, the more you will eat. Research also supports that you will manage your weight best by sticking to protein and complex carbs. Think shrimp cocktail, turkey, ham, brisket, crudities, veggies and fruit. Then, pick a treat that you love and have a small portion.
Watch Your Alcohol Intake
What’s a holiday party without spiked eggnog, mulled wine or a pomegranate martini? Enjoying a cocktail or two won’t hurt you. But, too much alcohol can disturb sleep patterns and leave you feeling less than stellar the next day. Alcohol is also dehydrating. Alternate drinking an alcoholic beverage with water or juice mixed with sparkling water. Eating food while drinking helps to slow the rate of alcohol absorption. The opposite is true with carbonated beverages. Carbonation speeds up the absorption of alcohol in the stomach. Finally, if you’re already tired, be careful how much your drink as exhaustion magnifies alcohol’s effects.
Maintain Your Exercise Routine
It’s easy to skip your normal exercise routine when things get hectic around the holidays. However, maintaining your workout is even more important as exercise is a great antidote for stress and helps to burn any extra calories you may be consuming. If the holidays make you blue, exercise can also help elevate your mood.
Can’t make it to the gym? Consider heading outdoors and go for a walk. In cold weather, your body requires significantly more energy to keep warm. Fresh snow on the ground? Look for cross country ski rentals in your area. Unlike downhill skiing, the cost to rent and ski for the day is very affordable. Visit the Cross Country Ski Association’s website to find a cross country ski area in your neck of the woods. Or, consider buying a set of snowshoes for you and a loved one. Outdoor outfitters like REI and LL Bean offer a wide variety of styles and prices. Need motivation? Cross country skiing burns upwards of 700 calories per hour (that’s a piece of pie!).
Don’t Skimp on Sleep
With last minute shopping and late night parties, it’s easy to fall into bed late. During this busy period, getting by with just 5 to 6 hours of sleep is not going to help. Our bodies can better handle stress if we’ve had sufficient sleep. More importantly, you’re more likely to burn fat, not muscle if you get your zzz’s – an important consideration if you’re eating more calorie dense foods.
Take a Well-Deserved Break
During the holidays, make sure you set time aside to relax. Whether it’s sitting down with a glass of wine and watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas or soaking in a warm tub, these small time outs will help you to better manage stress. Or, recharge your batteries by treating yourself to a massage, pedicure, manicure or skin care treatment. If your neck aches from leaning over and wrapping presents, consider investing in a Bucky neck wrap. Made from buckwheat, this aromatherapy wrap can be heated to alleviate tense neck muscles. Bucky wraps, which are about $35.00, are widely available on the internet especially at Amazon.
Relax with Supplements
You can take a number of nutritional supplements to alleviate stress and anxiety. The most well-known of these is the B-Complex or “anti-stress” vitamins. The B-vitamins support metabolism, maintain healthy hair, skin & nails, and enhance immune and nervous function. The B-Complex is offered in VitaMedica’s Multi-Vitamin & Mineral and Anti-Aging Formula products.
A number of botanicals support mental health including kava kava, St. John’s Wort and valerian. Kava root preparations reduce stress-related anxiety and the effects of anxiety disorders. St. John’s Wort is used to treat mild to moderate depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Valerian eases insomnia, stress-related anxiety and nervous restlessness. Just keep in mind, that if you’re having a surgical procedure, you need to discontinue the use of these botanicals during the peri-operative period.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.