It's the holiday season, that stressful, hyperactive rollercoaster rush from Thanksgiving to New Years that hardly allows a moment for us to catch our breath.
"Let's face it, the holidays are a season of joy, but they can also be a season of stress," said Dr. Jennifer Caudle, a Rowan Family Medicine physician and an assistant professor at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. "To be sure your holiday is filled with more than joy than worry, start managing your stress by forgiving yourself when you fall short of the 'perfect' holiday celebration that your inner voice might demand.
"Stress can be damaging to our health, and our bodies respond to stress in multiple ways. Our hearts beat faster, muscles tense and blood pressure can increase. Stress may also cause emotions to bubble closer to the surface which can lead emotional meltdowns in kids and angry outburst in adults. When under stress, some people will cope by reaching for unhealthy substances like tobacco, alcohol or junk food."
To keep stress from making a mess of your holidays, Dr. Caudle advises the following:
• Know that you are enough. Stressed about making sure everything is "perfect?" Know that what you are doing to prepare for the holidays is not only your best effort, but enough. Don't beat yourself up for falling short of your or someone else's unrealistic expectations.
• Practice forgiveness. This starts with you. If you ate too many sugar cookies or drank too much eggnog at your office holiday party, it doesn't mean your diet is ruined forever. Learn to forgive yourself if your diet or exercise program takes a slight hit during this holiday season, but vow to start right back up again and make healthy choices when possible.
• Go for casual. Holiday gatherings are a time for family, friends and fellowship. Instead of preparing an elegant, full-course meal that might take time away from your guests, try a potluck dinner or appetizer sampler so everyone can spend more time socializing in a relaxed atmosphere.
• Just say 'no.' This is the season when there is a holiday party around every corner. But, believe it or not, you don't have to accept every invitation this holiday season. And, instead of declining, suggest getting together after the holidays when you have time to relax and enjoy the company of friends.
• Move more. Exercise, in any form, is a great stress-buster. Go for a walk on a chilly winter evening, enjoy the sites and the feel of the crisp, cool air. It will help clear your head, and work off some of the holiday calories (consumed or yet to be consumed).
• Think less. Take a five-minute break by finding a quiet comfortable spot where you can close your eyes, listen to your breathing and focus on…nothing. Consider it the mini-vacation you've earned with all your holiday preparation.
• Think of others. For some, the holidays are not happy. The loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or feelings of loneliness are reasons that the holidays could be difficult for some. If you know someone who might have a rough a time during this holiday season, reach out to them.
Finally, Dr. Caudle says, "There really are only two things you have to remember to do this holiday season - breathe in and breathe out!"