One in five Americans believes holiday stress affects their physical health.
Are you one of them? Learn how to keep common stress culprits at bay for healthier, happier holidays.
Instead of visions of sugar plums, many Americans find themselves facing mounting stress and pressure during the holidays. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), one in five Americans worry their stress could impact their health. Women seem to feel the most pressure, as they are more likely to take on the additional workload of the season and worry about money for gift purchases.
"Stress can negatively impact your health, as it's been linked to depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain and more," said Lori Phelps, PhD, a psychologist with Monroe Clinic. "While we can't eliminate stress, we can change how we cope with it."
The most common causes of holiday stress include:
Problem: A poll by the APA found 61% of Americans listed "lack of money" as the top cause of holiday stress followed by the pressures of gift giving, lack of time, and credit card debt.
Solution: Consider trimming your Christmas shopping list. This may mean reducing the amount you spend on people, sticking to a budget, removing people from your shopping list or getting creative with gift-giving rituals: making gifts or providing assistance with tasks like childcare or housework are some alternatives to buying gifts. Don't be afraid to reach out to friends and relatives about making changes, as they may have similar ideas.
Poor Coping Habits
Problem: To cope with stress, many people turn to unhealthy practices, such as drinking alcohol or over-eating, which ultimately add to their problems. APA's 2010 "Stress in American" report found 40 percent of adults surveyed admitted to overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress in the past month.
Solution: Daily exercise is a healthier and more effective stress management tool. In fact research shows that regular exercise can be as good as medication for helping people feel better! Other people find comfort through religious rituals, prayer and other spiritual activities. Getting a massage and doing yoga can also be helpful and relaxing. While it may be tough, try to stick to your normal routine, including bedtimes, family meals and workouts.
Stretched Too Thin
Problem: How many holiday parties are you attending? Hosting? Bringing food to? What other seasonal obligations are adding to your growing "to do" list? These obligations not only fill your calendar, but often require money and preparation, disrupt your routine and take attention away from you and your family's needs.
Solution: Practice saying "No." Prioritize events and opportunities that are important, meaningful and enjoyable for your family. If you find you're already heavily committed, see what you can take off the calendar and proactively consider turning down future requests that come your way, so you aren't caught off guard.
Pursuit of Perfection
Problem: Many of the above issues are tied to our expectations for what makes a happy holiday season: grand feasts with recipes from scratch; kids traveling from home to home, party to party, without tiring or misbehaving; spotless homes; amazing gifts. The pressure can be exhausting...and unachievable.
Solution: Make peace with imperfection, and set realistic expectations. What does that mean for you? It varies from person to person. It may mean using a premade pie crust instead of scratch or picking up something from the bakery. It may mean passing on a party that overextends the family's schedule. It may mean entertaining friends while having a messy kitchen.
And practice gratitude, recognizing and giving thanks for what you have, instead of focusing on what you don’t have. Research shows that simply listing a few things you’re grateful for at the end of each day can lead you to feel better.
"By accepting our natural limitations and having realistic expectations, we open ourselves up to the joy of the holiday season, with our focus on important people, relationships and experiences," said Phelps. "But if you do struggle over the holidays, with anxiety or depression or something else, don't hesitate to reach out and get the help you need."
One source of that help is Behavioral Health at Monroe Clinic. Contact them at 608- 324-2321 for more information.