Stress and the Holidays

Halloween has come and gone for another year; time to put away the goblins, ghosts and spiders and prepare for another holiday season filled with music, food and family.  While the holidays can be a time for celebration and joy, they also cause a great deal of stress.  Between shopping for gifts, holiday travel plans, cooking meals and attending numerous holiday parties and activities, the number of things we cram into a few weeks in November and December can be overwhelming.  Although stress is a normal part of life, prolonged stress can impact on your Diabetes management by raising glucose levels and interfering with good self-care.  While it may not be possible to make the holidays completely stress-free, there are some things you can do to keep your stress under control this holiday season.   

One of the best things you can do to reduce stress is taking steps to minimize it.  This may sound easier said than done, but it is possible to find ways to work around stressful situations with a little planning.  A good first step is identifying what stresses you out the most about the holidays—holiday shopping, cooking large family meals, etc—and setting out a plan for when and how you will accomplish each task. Remember that while each of these tasks might seem overwhelming, they can all be broken down into a series of smaller, more manageable steps. For example: rather than trying to do all of your holiday shopping at once, try buying one gift at a time.  Or if you’re planning on hosting a big holiday dinner, try making your side dishes the night before. 

Another tip for managing holiday stress is being realistic about what you can accomplish.  Over scheduling can make enjoying the holidays difficult; trying to fit everything in leaves little time to enjoy the things you want to do, and makes it hard to find time to take care of yourself.  Instead, focus your attention on those things that are most important, whether it’s spending time with the family, baking or watching a favorite holiday movie.  Discuss what commitments are important with your spouse or partner, and come up with a way to politely decline any additional offers.

Lastly, make sure you take time out for yourself.  Prolonged stress weakens the immune system, and has been linked to high blood pressure and heart attack.  The best holiday gift you can give your family is a healthy you.  Try to plan your holiday activities around your self-care plan (not the other way around), get enough sleep and fit in regular exercise.  Simply taking time out of your day for physical activity—such as taking the stairs rather than the elevator or doing two laps around the mall before you start your shopping–can help clear your head, reduce stress and give you a renewed sense of focus.

How do you handle holiday stress?

(Information reviewed by MGH Psychology Department)

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