Managing Stress During the Holidays

Robert G. Parker
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Dr. Parker is a podiatrist and surgeon in Houston, TX who has been helping patients for more than 40 years.

During the holiday season, we hear daily messages of joy, love, and peace. But for many, depression and anxiety often run high around the holiday season, and those messages of joy may make it harder to cope with negative feelings.

In turn, negative feelings can affect your physical health and wellbeing – even down into your lower limbs.

Rather than let these feelings and behaviors get the best of us during a time of celebration and joy, it can be helpful to recognize your holiday triggers and plan coping strategies in advance.

With that in mind, here are 10 tips to help you manage holiday stress:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season. Feelings are what they are: they do not respond to logic or reason. Sometimes, when we take the time to actually feel our feelings, they tend to take less of the center stage of our day-to-day. Of course, this is also a necessary step for being able to deal with them!

    Holiday Stress
  2. Family – Can't live with them, can't live without them. Family misunderstandings and conflicts can intensify during the holidays – especially if you're thrust together for several days. If this is a trigger for you, think of some ways that you can head these feelings off before they get to be too much. Plan time to get out of the house for a few hours, or even for the whole day. Keep it simple by going for a walk in the neighborhood, take a yoga class together or alone, or send the in-laws out for a pizza and a movie. Think of some things to do in advance, so you'll be prepared with ideas when tensions and boredom run high.

    On the other hand, facing the holidays without a loved one can be tough and leave you feeling lonely and sad. Volunteer time at a homeless or animal shelter or spend time providing food baskets to those less fortunate. Invite other friends whose families are also not around to have a special holiday dinner together. This is a great time of year to investigate other options for making new friends: join a local support group, a gym or take a class in something that interests you. Think of things you can do that will help you meet new people, keep you occupied when you're feeling lonely, and, in the long-run, build up to a healthier lifestyle!
  3. Finances – Getting a handle on the holiday output. With the added expenses of gifts, travel, food, and entertainment, the holidays can put a strain on your budget – and your peace of mind! Not to mention that overspending now can mean financial stress for months to come.

    Set a clear budget before you go shopping: know who you are buying for, and how much you are willing to spend. If you can, jot down a couple gift ideas for each person within this budget. It will make for a less stressful shopping experience and help you prevent the anxiety that comes with overspending and shopper's remorse.

    Many of us simply don't have the extra money for gifts this year. Don't worry about buying the perfect gift (we all have too much "stuff" anyway!) Make something from the heart: the web is full of homemade holiday websites for all levels of craftiness. Bake your co-workers cookies, encourage your family to draw names rather than buy individual gifts. Simple little gifts from the heart mean so much more than big-ticket items from department stores! (And, crafting is a great way to help keep our "hands down").
  4. Don't skip out on your therapist. You're busy, have way too much to do, and you may be tempted to cancel an appointment with your therapist or counselor. Instead of looking at your appointment as another obligation you must uphold, try looking at it as some "me time.” This is, after all, an opportunity to evaluate your feelings, how you are coping with them, and really check in with yourself. Plus, it is important when working on recovery from pulling and picking issues to be consistent: skipping one appointment may lead to skipping others, and you'll miss a chance to get some valuable feedback during a stressful time.
  5. Schedule some downtime. Even die-hard holiday enthusiasts may find that the extra shopping and socializing can leave them wiped out. Most of us with trichotillomania and skin picking experience increased behavior when we're exhausted. Plus, being exhausted increases our stress, creating a vicious cycle.

    Holiday RelaxationExercise and sleep—good antidotes for stress and fatigue—may take a back seat to chores and errands. To top it off, burning the wick at both ends makes you more susceptible to colds and other unwelcome guests. Make sure you get plenty of rest, provide moments to relax throughout your day. Try lighting scented candles, listening to quiet music, taking a bath, or enjoying a cup of herbal tea: there are hundreds of ways you can relax your mind and body to prepare for a good night's rest.

    Plus, it's ok to say no. You don't have to attend every party, volunteer for every school activity, or host the family for the weekend! Decide which events are important and which you can gracefully decline. Make sure to take care of yourself, too!
  6. Don't abandon healthy habits. We've already established that we’re all too busy during the holidays. But, that doesn't mean that we can throw a year's hard-work to the curb! Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity. Watch the drinking, too (studies show that over-consumption of alcohol can lead to depression).
  7. Modify your expectations. Sometimes, our expectations for the holiday season do not match our reality. Hollywood, and our own memories or daydreams from childhood, leave us with images of friendly family get-togethers, perfect gift exchanges, and romantic moments by the fireplace. But honestly, when was the last time you roasted chestnuts with a loved one? 

    Examine your expectations for the holidays. Are they realistic? Perhaps some readjustments are necessary in order to meet your reality. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.
  8. Take a breather. In fact, take several! Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
  9. Practice acceptance.... When we are depressed or overwhelmed, we tend to measure our life by the number of bumps in our road, rather than by how we navigate those bumps. Life does not always happen the way you want it to. Look at your reaction to situations that don't work out the way you had planned and see if you can change your reaction to one of opportunity for something better rather than one of failure.
  10. ....And forgiveness. The holiday season, and particularly, the New Year, is a great opportunity to take a look at our life and relationships with a new perspective. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion, or perhaps, let bygones be bygones and forgive what you can. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression too.

Hopefully, these simple tips will help you best manage stress during the holiday season. As we noted earlier, managing stress is important for your physical health. So too is coming in to see us for treatment when you develop any problems in your lower limbs.

Contact Parker Podiatry today if you need professional foot care by calling (281) 497-2850.

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