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Home News News Archives 2009 Archive Reduce Stress, Increase Joy: Healthy Ways to Manage the Holidays

Reduce Stress, Increase Joy: Healthy Ways to Manage the Holidays 

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By Donald R. Martin, LPC, CEAP

Norfolk, VA  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza, just the thought of the holidays can evoke stress and often depression. There is so much to do in such a short period of time. Expectations of yourself and perceived expectations from others can evoke feelings of anxiousness, worry and stress. These feelings can wreak havoc on both your physical and mental health.

The holidays are filled with demands—shopping, baking, cleaning, entertaining, just to name a few—all in hopes of pulling off a perfect holiday. Most Americans do little to prepare themselves for holiday stress so that they can truly enjoy the season. Managing the holidays is the key to striking that fine balance between hectic and chaotic.

Here are some helpful considerations for making your holidays more pleasant:

First, prepare in advance how you will handle those key holiday triggers — relationships, finances and physical demands. For most people, each of these triggers come into play during the holiday season. Anticipate how you will handle family dynamics so that you can create a strategy for dealing with difficulty situations. Create a holiday budget that includes gifts, travel, food and entertainment. Keep the holiday’s physical demands in perspective. Trying to cram too many activities into an already busy schedule can cause lack of sleep, exhaustion, stress and make you susceptible for illness.

Second, be realistic about your holiday expectations. Sometimes the pressure we put on ourselves in order to achieve the perfect holiday is far greater than pressures put on us by others. Instead of spending late nights baking, consider purchasing holiday goodies from a local bakery. Give thought to supplementing the traditional holiday meal with some prepackaged items, or ask family members to pitch in by bringing a dish to dinner. Make a gift giving list and shop online instead of spending hours going from mall to mall trying to find just the right gift. Determine in advance how many holiday get-togethers you can attend. Overdoing it during the holidays just leaves you exhausted and unable to enjoy the season and relax.

Third, maintain healthy habits during the holidays.

 Exercise is a great release for stress. By keeping it up,  you are enabling yourself to have the stamina to deal with the added demands that the season brings

If you regularly exercise, don’t abandon the time you spend at the gym just because of the holidays. Exercise is a great release for stress and by taking the time to continue an exercise regimen, you are enabling yourself to have the stamina to deal with the added demands that the season brings. Also, monitor your calorie intake. During the holiday people tend to indulge in foods high and fat and sugar, as well as alcohol. Eating a healthy snack before going to a holiday party will help curb your hunger and help you resist unhealthy foods.

And,  finally, be true to yourself. The holidays can bring about feelings of happiness and joy, as well as sadness and disappointment. By allowing yourself to be true to your feelings you will be able to better understand how to deal with them. Learn to say no if you aren’t up to participating in a holiday event. Take time for yourself; relax. Be realistic and manage expectations. Avoid conflict with family members and try and accept them for who they are. And most importantly, reach out to others for friendship, advice, and support. If you feel unable to cope, contact a mental health professional for guidance.

The holidays are to be enjoyed and celebrated. Keeping things in perspective can put you in control this holiday season. 


Donald R. Martin is the clinical manger for the Employee Assistance Program at Optima Health, a Virginia-based health plan with more than 415,000 members, nationally-recognized for its quality, service and innovative programs. Optima Behavioral Health is one of Virginia’s largest and most experienced behavioral managed care organizations with 15 years of experience, 700,000 members and nearly 3,500 providers across the state.

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