It’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year, but the holidays can wind up being some of the more stressful — and dangerous to one’s health — for a lot of people.
In a 2006 survey by the American Psychological Association, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men reported experiencing increased stress during the holidays. And it’s no wonder. Demands on our time and finances multiply around holiday time. There’s the home-decorating, gift-shopping, parties to be hosted or attended, meals to be prepared, getting along with difficult relatives at gatherings … the list of potential holiday stress triggers is so long that it perhaps partly explains why more people die from heart attacks at the end of the year than at any other time.
A 2004 national study by the University of California at San Diego and Tufts University School of Medicine found that heart-related deaths go up by five percent during the holiday season. The study found that the biggest days of the year for heart attacks were Christmas Day, December 26 and New Year’s Day.
In addition to holiday stress, health experts believe that this grim statistic reflects the fact that more people engage in unhealthy behaviors over the holidays, including over-eating, over-drinking, and not exercising.
The following are ten great tips for reducing stress and staying healthy during the holidays (and beyond!) —
- Make a Budget: Decide roughly how much you want to spend on gifts and entertaining, and stick to that budget. Avoid feeling pressured by advertisements to run out and buy the latest jewelry fashions or chic, expensive gifts. If money isn’t abundant, consider making presents for your loved ones, getting creative with the gifts you give; substitute imagination and your talents for great expense. If you have children, one of the great things about kids is that they’re so easily pleased, especially in the younger years. Instead of getting the most expensive toys for your little ones and a lot of them, focus on getting presents that will delight them and will be safe, but will not break your budget.
- Plan Ahead: Whether you’re hosting a party or bringing food to one, give thought to the foods you’ll serve and make lists of all you’ll need before you go to the stores, so that you won’t forget anything.
- Consider Time Constraints: Think about how much time you can spend hosting or helping at parties and other events. If you try to please everybody by trying to do it all, you will only wind up feeling resentful and tired out. If you can afford it, hire people to help with party preparations and clean-up, which will save you many hours.
- Don’t Feel Pressured to Feel Festive: Many people have lost a loved one recently; it’s completely okay if you aren’t feeling the festive spirit. Maybe you’ll want to opt out of celebrating for a season, and simply send yours gifts or cards with good wishes.
- Be Willing to Start New Traditions: If circumstances in your family have changed, and past traditions have to be modified, be willing to simply let go of what no longer can be, and be free to start new holiday traditions that more reflect your current life circumstances.
- Volunteer to Help Those in Need: If you have no relatives or friends with whom to celebrate the holidays, sign up to volunteer somewhere. Whether your heart goes out to children, the handicapped, abandoned pets, or whatever charitable causes you feel strongly about, helping others is a great way for a person to bring themselves out of an emotional hole. Sometimes, when we’re feeling unlucky or unloved, all it takes is a simple reminder that many others are in even worse situations than we. Also, you cannot do a good deed and not feel good inside. Thus, doing charitable deeds is ultimately a gift that you give to yourself! (And think of all the “good will” points you’ll rack up!)
- Reach Out — If volunteering is not possible for you, try reaching out to your community or your place of worship. There are many folks who themselves are a bit alone and could use some friends, but you won’t find those people by staying home!
- Eat Healthfully! It is possible to delight and satisfy our stomachs and not put on weight over the holidays. Feast away on holiday meals, but always aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Starches (breads, potatoes, rice, pasta) are great, but eat them in moderation. Don’t load up on mashed potatoes as well as stuffing, or mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, for instance, because these are all starches … and all those carbohydrates, if not burned off, will be on your body the next day.
- Drink Responsibly! as the ad campaigns admonish. By keeping your alcoholic beverages at a low number, you are ultimately improving the chances that you will enjoy your festivities to the fullest, without danger of getting sick, crossing your relatives, making big scenes or having alcohol-related mishaps. One useful strategy is to drink a full glass of water after each alcoholic beverage that you consume. This will keep you hydrated, will dilute the alcohol in your system, and will make it less likely that you may accidentally drink an excess one or more beverages and regret it.
- Keep Exercising!Maybe a big ski trip isn’t in the cards this year — but that doesn’t mean that you can’t recruit a couple of your favorite family members to go on brisk daily walks in the cool winter air. Use any excuse to recruit family members and friends to join you in some type of regular physical activity, even when you’re traveling, whether it be tennis, bike-riding or doing laps in a heated pool. Doing some stretching and calisthenics exercises in the back lawn (provided there’s no snow!) or on an exercise mat in your bedroom will also help keep you limber and toned while you’re away from home.
By Jamell Andrews