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10 useful tips to make it through the holiday season

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Larry Kroll
  • 375th Mental Health Clinic commander
Once again, the holidays are right around the corner, and whether you celebrate Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or New Years, it is a special time of year. It's time to visit family and friends, have fun, stay up late, over eat, over spend, and over tax one's energy reserves.

In short, we're talking stress time. An important thing to remember about stress, regardless of the time of year it occurs, is that stress is not something that is "just out there." Things such as having to pay bills, getting caught in traffic, waiting in long lines to buy things, family or work difficulties don't have to be stressful. Stress itself is something we ourselves create, it comes from how we react to the stressors in our life and how we interpret situations we find ourselves in.

For example, say three people are told by their supervisor that there were a lot of mistakes in the work they just handed in and that they will need to stay at work until they fix the mistakes. In all likelihood, each person will react differently. One might get very angry with their supervisor and express this anger, another may acknowledge they did make some mistakes and work quickly to fix them and the other might say they understand and will fix it, but inside they are churning and begin to develop a headache. If it was the event that determines how much stress you feel, then each person in that situation would react the exact same way. Since that is not the case, it makes sense that it is the individual and their reaction to an event or situation that determines how much stress we feel.

So what exactly is stress? Basically, it is your body's reaction or response when it senses it may be in danger or when you run up against a challenge. When a person begins to feel stress, their body produces chemicals and reacts in a very specific way that is designed to prepare the body physically to either fight or run away. Our heart-rate increase, muscle tension increases, breathing becomes fast and shallow, and adrenaline flows into the blood stream as just a few examples of what happens. This is often called the "Fight or Flight" response or the "Emergency Response System," since it is mainly designed for emergency situations.

Although such a reaction was very helpful for our ancestors when having to fight off or run away from large animals, it is less useful in today's society. Challenges in today's society come in a variety of forms. Since we can't fight off or run away from credit card bills or unreasonable bosses or bad drivers, having this emergency response system go into effect is a lot like revving a car engine while pushing on the brakes. Unfortunately, the holiday season is a time where there are many more stressors out there that are trying to get your attention and possibly get you stressed out.

So what can a person do to avoid stress? Well, it isn't necessarily easy but here are 10 tips to put you on a path toward having a stress-free holiday season.

1. Plan ahead

Try to get various tasks completed before the holiday rush. List all of your holiday chores. Listing things helps you get organized and helps your prioritize tasks. Check items off the list as you complete them to show your progress and give yourself a sense of accomplishment.

2. Social support

Support from other people is probably the most effective way to help manage stress. So, spend time with people that you like. Social support comes from various groups we interact with such as people at work, social functions, or religious services.

3. Reinstate the draft

We're in the military so this seems appropriate. By this I mean, delegate and get everyone to help.

4. Hide

Simple but very effective. When you need a little peace and quiet, slip away and find some. Go to a private place and take a few deep breaths to calm yourself down and regroup.

5. Rest

During the holidays, many people tend to stay up later in an effort to get more done. Try not to fall into this trap. When we feel stressed, our bodies use more energy, thereby making us tired. Listen to what your body is telling you and make sure you get a good night's sleep.

6. Eat well

As mentioned, at stressful times your body uses more energy than normal. That means it is important to eat and eat well to keep up those energy levels. It is important to make smart food choices to try to help balance all of the high calorie-high fat food that is around during the holidays.

7. Exercise

There is a lot of research that shows that people who exercise on a regular basis lead healthy, happier, less stressful lives. This doesn't mean you need to be at the gym thee hours per day, everyday. But something as simple as taking a 20-minute walk at some point during your day is a great "stress-buster."

8. Adjust expectations

Keep your expectations manageable. Try setting realistic goals. And don't put your entire focus on one single day. Let these feelings and activities be spread out and it will help lessen stress.

9. Don't Take It Personally (DTIP)

What in the world do I mean by that? Well, the next time you are in a holiday traffic jam, stuck in a slow check out line, or trying to do some shopping and people are pushing your buttons, remember "DTIP," and don't take it personally. The check out line is not there to drive you crazy and the stop light is not part of a master plan to ruin your day. It is important to not get upset about what is beyond our control. Take a deep breath and let it pass.

10. Moderation

Give yourself permission to have some of the foods you like, but try to avoid really loading up your plate. The same goes for drinking as this too should be done in moderation. It can be tough during this time of year, but using moderation in eating, drinking, and spending can help you avoid a belt, head, or wallet hangover.

So there are your 10 tips. One thing to keep in mind as the holiday season barrels forward is that "this too shall pass." No matter how it may feel at times, December really does have only 31 days. If things get rough, try to look forward to something in January ... like December being over.