How to manage stress during the holidays

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of health care is spent on stress related disorders, including anxiety and depression, autoimmune and allergic disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, and body aches and pains.

Although stress is a part of life, there are numerous ways to avoid letting it get the best of you, states therapist, author and positive living expert Diane Lang ( who offers some tips on how we all can have a more balanced and happy holiday season.

• Remember what the holidays are about - spending quality time with family, friends and loved ones, and giving to others. Watch your expectations, and make sure they are realistic.

• Take good care of yourself. Everyone deserves some down time. Something as simple as a 15-minute nap can make a noticeable difference in your energy levels. Try distancing yourself from the telephone, computer and television when possible; treat yourself to a massage; curl up with a good book; or take a relaxing bath.

• Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are planning a holiday get-together, most people are happy to bring a covered dish or dessert to share. Don’t feel guilty about asking family members to help with chores or planning.

• Watch for signs of burnout and listen to your body. It’s time to make changes if you notice any of the following signs: feeling irritable, moody or unhappy; exhaustion and fatigue; panic attack symptoms like dizziness, heavy chest, heart racing, headache, feeling nauseous, hot and cold flashes; changes in sleeping or eating habits; physical signs such as headaches, stomachaches, joint pain and low immune system (catching frequent colds and illnesses).

To help manage symptoms like those above, use these techniques:

• Practice deep breathing exercises. When you are under stress, your breathing changes, becoming more shallow and rapid. Be aware, and focus on taking longer, deeper breaths.

• Exercise. One of the very best ways to combat stress is by being physically active. For those who feel agitated or angry when they are stressed, intense forms of activity like punching a ‘heavy bag’ or going for a long run can do wonders for releasing pent-up energy. For others, feelings of fatigue, sadness or hopelessness arise when stressed. In this case, exercise provides the perfect pick me up. The brain releases ‘feel good’ chemicals with activity, helping you to become naturally happier and more peaceful.

• Instead of keeping stress bottled up, share your thoughts with someone. Having a friend, family member, teacher, or counselor to talk to can help give you a totally different perspective. When circumstances arise that you cannot control, it also helps to identify (write down) the sources of stress as well as your responses to them.

• Spend time with your pet, or volunteer at a local animal shelter. Volunteering is an excellent way to get your mind off your troubles, helping you to focus outside yourself and put things into clearer perspective. Studies have shown that when enjoying the company of pets, people had a significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure while resting.

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