How to stay stress-free during the holiday season
It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many, the holidays are also the most stressful time of the year (although tax season is a close runner-up). Whether it’s waiting for an eternity in line at Santa’s Village, rushing around the mall to find all the gifts on your list or spending hours in the kitchen preparing the holiday meal while your mother-in-law silently critiques your every move, there are numerous stressors during the holiday season. While a little bit of stress does no real harm and can even be motivation to get through the to-do list, long periods of heightened stress can take a toll on both mental and physical health.
Learn more about how stress affects your health and what you can do to help manage your stress before it manages you.
How stress affects the mind and body
Stress is a natural physical and psychological response to the everyday demands of life. Stress is the result of the brain responding to a perceived threat through the release of hormones that raise your heart rate and blood pressure, also known as the “fight-or-flight” response. This process gives our body the fuel it needs to overcome problems or obstacles, but prolonged stress due to the seemingly nonstop demands of work, school and family can negatively affect our emotional and physical health over time.
Common effects of stress on the body include:
- Muscle tension
- Upset stomach
- Change in sex drive
- Sleep problems
In addition to the physical effects of stress, there are also a number of ways that stress can impact mental health, including:
- Anxiety or depression
- Lack of motivation
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Lack of interest in socializing
- Overeating or undereating
Stress impacts health in a variety of ways, which is why it’s vital to learn effective and healthy techniques that help keep stress levels in check as you navigate your daily life.
How to manage your stress this holiday season
When you feel your stress levels rising, it’s important to address your feelings right away. Burying your feelings is never the solution and will only make your stress more difficult to manage the longer you ignore it. To help manage your stress, use one or more of the following techniques.
- Take a few deep, calming breaths until you feel your body begin to unclench.
- If you’re having a stressful interaction with someone, count to 10 in your head before you speak or react. Don’t be afraid to walk away from the situation and deal with it later after you’ve calmed down.
- Meditate or listen to some relaxing music.
- Do something active – exercise releases endorphins, hormones that help reduce stress and pain levels in the body. Common stress-reducing exercises include jogging, working out at the gym or simply taking the dog for a quick walk.
- If the problem or situation that’s causing you stress isn’t urgent, sleep on it and deal with it in the morning.
- Break down big problems into smaller steps or subtasks to help organize your to-do list.
Addressing your feelings of heightened stress and using healthy strategies to help manage your stress can help you navigate the hectic holiday season, as well as any future stressors that may come your way. For more information, visit apa.org/stress.