Are the Holidays Stressing You Out?

Mother and young son have a fun time building a gingerbread house for the holiday.Use these tips to give yourself the gift of happiness and health this holiday

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of year but for many Americans, it’s the most stressful time of year. With all the added responsibilities, stress levels can run high, leading to health problems and bad habits. Our gift to you this year is helping you turn your stress into holiday cheer.

Why are we so stressed out?

People have a lot to do this time of year. Not only are we working, taking care of our families and meeting our regular bills, but we are also adding to our regular schedule with shopping, decorating, planning get-togethers with family and friends. Expectations run higher this time of year.

We all have different stressors and manage our stress differently. Unfortunately, women (who have more responsibilities this time of year) tend to have higher levels of stress than men, according to a 2006 study by the American Psychological Association (APA).

To relieve stress, according to the study, we often turn to our old, bad habits.

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating comfort foods
  • Watching more tv
  • Sleeping less

Stress weakens your immune system

While your stress may trigger bad habits, it’s your immune system that takes a hit. When you stress, your body releases a hormone that makes your body more vulnerable to disease. You increase your risk of developing:

  • Heart disease and heart attacks
  • Skin conditions
  • Digestive issues
  • Mental health problems
  • Worsening of pain, if you have a pain disorder such as arthritis, back pain, and muscle spasms
  • Colds, infections, and viruses

It’s enough to stress you out! Fortunately, we can keep the stress at bay. Try the following tips to relieve your stress and make your holidays more happy and healthy.

  1. Give yourself a break. You may be thinking that you have no time for a break, but the experts all agree that you need to give yourself a time out each day. All you need is a couple of minutes to practice breathing techniques or meditate to clear your mind.
  1. Be realistic. If your list is longer than Santa’s Nice list, you need to cut some stuff out and say “no” once in a while. Write down everything you must do. Cut anything that isn’t a necessity to making your holiday better and plan out when you will get everything else done. When completing your tasks, alternating between doing something for someone else and taking care of your own needs will help keep you in a better mood. For example, after you buy your friend a gift, take a half hour to go for a brisk walk.
  1. Get more exercise. While stress releases bad hormones into your body, exercise releases the good ones to counteract stress. Endorphins, the good hormones, are so powerful that help you feel less pain and make you feel more energized and positive. Regular exercise may lower stress, boost self-esteem, and improve your sleep. Getting more exercise in your life does not require a gym. Try adding in a walk, climbing the stairs, or finding other ways to sneak exercise into your day.
  1. Watch what you eat. You’ll encounter cookies and candy just about anywhere you go this time of year. While it’s ok to treat yourself once and awhile, sugar and carbohydrates provide empty calories and many Americans will gain a pound this holiday season. Instead, try to fill up on fruits and vegetables (without the dips!), healthy fats (olive oil), lean proteins, and nuts and seeds to boost your mood.
  1. Think before you buy. The holiday season is rampant with commercialization and money has become a leading stressor. While stores try to get you to spend all your money, stick to your budget and try agreeing to dollar limits on gifts or hold a gift exchange with your family where you are only responsible for buying a gift for one person.
  1. Volunteer your time. If you want to get together with friends and feel good about yourself, try organizing a group to help a charity. With so many organizations that could use your help this time of year, you could find new meaning in the holiday spirit. You may even consider donating to charities in honor of your friends instead of buying gifts this year.
  1. Relax around family and friends. Family can be another source of stress this time of year. If you find yourself stressing due to family dynamics, plan some strategies to cope before you see everyone. If you need to take a moment to clear your head, get some fresh air and try using your breathing techniques.
  1. Think positive! Whether you look at your life positively or negatively can be a learned skill. Practice seeing the bright side of every situation. If we focus on the good, we can train our brain to perceive most situations as good, and we will feel happier. We all have problems, it’s just how we react to them that makes the difference!
  1. Get a good laugh. Laughter has been shown to be the best medicine. If you want the health benefits of laughter, seek out humor, smile more, and spend time with fun, playful people.

If all else fails, you can try to some more unusual ways to combat your stress:

  • Press your hoku. In Chinese acupressure, if you press your hoku point, the fleshy are between the index finger and thumb, for a minute and take some deep breaths, you can help relieve stress in your body. Next time you are in a long line at the mall or post office, try giving it a squeeze and see if you can relax your body.
  • Play with a dog. Studies have shown that animals have a positive effect on us. If you don’t have one, consider volunteering at an animal shelter.
  • Buy a bonsai tree. The art of training a bonsai tree requires patience, attention to detail, and imagination. Not only will they purify your air but the focus they demand can help alleviate stress.
  • Chew gum. Chewing gum was shown to help reduce stress in a 2008 study that was presented at the 10th International Congress of Behavioral Medicine.

We hope you find these tips useful and can find a strategy for coping with stress that works for you. We hope you have a happy and health holiday season!

This post is part of the Harris School of Business weekly blog where we provide lifestyle tips to help support our students. If you are interested in our career training programs, please explore our options, request information, schedule a tour at one of our campuses, or call a career advisor at 800-510-7920.