Along with the stress of the holiday season, frequently comes unwanted stress. Whether it’s meeting end-of-the-year deadlines at work, hosting holiday celebrations, dealing with family conflict, or added financial strain, holidays have the potential to tax our ability to cope.
When we are faced with stressors, we experience physiological, emotional, and cognitive arousal.  Activating chemicals, such as endorphins, cortisol, and adrenalin, are released in order to help up rise to the challenge of meeting the demands of these stressors in order to effectively manage them and reduce the arousal or tension we are experiencing. This is called the flight-or-fight response.
When the stressor(s) are perceived as too great with which to manage or cope effectively, we can feel overwhelmed. This may manifest itself as experiencing intense emotion (i.e., anxiety, depression, irritability, anger), maladaptive thought processes (i.e., worry, rumination, unhelpful thoughts, doubt, helplessness, hopelessness, guilt), and behavior change (i.e., lashing out, crying, panic attack).

Potential consequences of acute or chronic stress and feeling overwhelmed include anxiety, depression, irritability, sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, interpersonal strain, headache, gastrointestinal distress, and increased vulnerability to medical as well as psychiatric illness.

 Take note of a few tips to get through the holidays comfortably and contentedly:
  • 1.  Be realistic – Neither you, nor your holiday has to be perfect. Whether you uphold holiday traditions or explore new ways to celebrate, consider your expectations and remain flexible.
  • 2.  Practice acceptance – Some degree of anxiety is “normal”, healthy, and motivating. It’s “normal” to experience some degree of anxiety when stressors are unfamiliar, unpredictable, and/or imminent. Anxiety, in itself, feels bad, but is not harmful and always passes. Think of it like a wave of the ocean; allow it to come in and ride it out.
  • 3.  Change your thoughts – We all have moments in which we increase our own anxiety by worrying about that which we cannot completely control. These thoughts are often unrealistic, inaccurate, or to some extent, unreasonable. Catch those thoughts, think about them and how they affect you, and change them to more helpful, adaptive thoughts.
  • 4.  Plan ahead – Set a budget for yourself and plan holiday activities and gift giving in advance. No one enjoys having to do all holiday preparations the night before the celebration, so think ahead and prepare to manage the stress of the demands.
  • 5.  Don’t take on too much – Be honest with yourself and your interests. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, consider limiting your activities to that which you are interested in and able to do. It is okay to say no.
  • 6.  Take care of yourself – Many of us spend so much time caring for the needs of others that we have the potential to neglect our own needs. Attend to your own feelings and healthy self-care: good nutrition, sleep, and exercise are important to well-being.
  • 7.  Stay Connected – Social support is vital to managing stress. Maintain connections to family and friends. Talking with others can do a world of good.
  • 8.  Be in the “now” – Too much focus on worrying about what may or may not come and you will not be able to enjoy the present moment. So, schedule some time to plan for what is to come, but take in all that is your present moment and enjoy the present.
  •  9.  Take a deep breath – Practicing diaphragmatic breathing or other relaxation inducing practice (e.g., progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery exercises, tai chi, yoga) can reduce stress by helping to encourage the relaxation response.
  • 10.  Behavioral activation – Take action. Engage in an activity you may enjoy, such as, taking a walk, listening to music, reading a book). Engage in problem-solving (In what ways might you address the stressors that are causing these feelings?)

Best wishes to all of you for a happy holiday season!

Dr. Deibler

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