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Dr. Carlene Wilson, Wellness Corner, 12/11/12

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Manage holiday stress

The holiday season is a joyful time, but stress from increased social pressures and demands on your time can take a toll on your physical and mental health. 

Holiday activities leave you less time for sleep, relaxation and regular exercise. Disruption of your normal routines can result in anxiety, sleep disturbances, headaches, loss of appetite and poor concentration. Several weeks of this pressure weaken your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to colds and flu. 

Your own expectations and the expectations of family members can also cause stress that affects your mental well-being. 

This year, aim for a happier, healthier holiday season. The best gift you can give your friends and family is genuine enjoyment of the time you spend together. Here are some tips for managing holiday stress:

* Plan ahead. Schedule specific times for activities such as baking, decorating and gift-wrapping. Make a shopping list and plan your shopping so you make as few trips as possible. Shop early to avoid the crowds.

* Separate the hype from reality. The media bombards us with emotional images of what Christmas should be like. Decide what the holidays mean to you, and set priorities for yourself and your family. Do not compare yourself to your friends and neighbors — celebrate in your own way.

* Simplify. Do not try to do everything. Ask each family member to choose one activity or tradition that he or she particularly enjoys, and concentrate on those. Keep your holiday meals simple and use some store-bought items to lighten the workload.

* Get enough sleep. You can deal with stress better when you are not overtired. Make a regular bedtime one of your priorities.

* Make a budget and stick to it. Piles of expensive gifts do not create happiness. The stress and anxiety of dealing with debt can endure for months after the holidays. Your family and friends would much rather receive a simple token of your affection than cause you a financial burden. Ask them!

* Take time to relax and exercise. Schedule some quiet time to take a walk, sit down and watch a favorite TV show, or enjoy a cup of coffee with a friend.

* Eat healthy foods. Have a healthy snack before you go to a party to diminish the temptation to overindulge. Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables. Serve yourself small portions of rich foods and eat them slowly.

Compensate for calorie-rich meals by eating lightly the rest of the day. Avoid fatty sauces and dressings, or substitute low-calorie ingredients in your holiday recipes. You can find many ideas on the Internet.

* Set aside time for your children. Children enjoy your attention more than anything else. Simplify your holiday activities so that you can devote time to playing with them, going for walks or outings, or doing craft projects together.

* Help your children to manage stress. The intense materialism of Christmas can bewilder and confuse children. Establish family traditions that emphasize spiritual values and family relationships. Make sure children get enough rest. Plan some activities or games to keep them entertained during family gatherings. 

Older teens may not want to spend all their time with family, but arrange for them to participate in specific activities. Family is important for them too. 

Your adult children may have other holiday obligations. Be understanding if they cannot come to your traditional holiday celebration. Arrange other ways to communicate, such as phone calls or Skype, an alternative celebration on another day, or a shared video.

* Avoid family conflicts. Stress and alcohol bring out the worst in people. Sidestep confrontations with difficult family members, and put aside hurt or angry feelings until you can discuss them later with someone who sympathizes. 

* Reach out to others. If you are alone during the holiday, consider volunteering your services at a church, shelter, hospital or nursing home. Organize a shared meal with neighbors or friends. 

Talk to your doctor or seek professional counseling if you feel extremely depressed, overwhelmed, or anxious during the holidays.

* Keep your family safe. Follow safety precautions to prevent accidents when putting up lights and decorations. Keep glass ornaments and small objects, as well as nuts and alcoholic drinks, where toddlers cannot reach them. 

Be careful when using candles, and turn off lights when you are away from home. Designate a driver if alcohol is being consumed. 

If your teenagers are going to a party, make arrangements to pick them up (no questions asked) rather than have them ride with someone who has been drinking.

Have a healthy, happy holiday! 

Dr. Carlene Wilson is a board-certified internist and pediatrician in private practice in Crystal River. Call her at 352-563-5070 or visit www.IMPWellnessCenter.com.