By Dr. Donna Ferguson, Psychologist with the WSIB Psychological Trauma Program
The holidays can be a joyous and relaxing time. It can also be a time that individuals experience the most stress. Family and friends, although supportive and helpful, can also be a source of stress during the holidays. There can also be financial stress when one is trying to buy gifts for loved ones.
Stress can take over your life. It can negatively affect your sleep and cause you to become agitated. This is particularly true when people are having difficulties at work and trying to find a balance between work and life. Interpersonal stress, lack of control, work demands, and lack of flexibility are some of the issues that can negatively affect you due to stress.
Here are some ways that one can cope with stress more effectively, during the holidays and throughout the year:
Work has a tendency of taking over one’s life as there is always a project or something else that must be completed. Include yourself in the priority list. Try to schedule in regular lunch and break times, as well as vacations and time away from the office.
Make Time for Yourself
Decide what it is you want to do for yourself. For example, schedule a spa day, or a regular weekly or monthly massage. Spend time with friends, if you find that enjoyable and relaxing.
Don’t be a Perfectionist
Having unrealistically high standards or expectations can increase stress. So learn to let go even if things are not perfect. Learn to be less self-critical.
Don’t use Maladaptive (poor) Coping Strategies
Deal with stress in a healthy and adaptive (good) way. Do not self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, or even smoking. Do not use food as a way to cope, by overeating. Do not withdraw from friends and family or lash out at them when you might be feeling agitated or irritable. Do spend time with and confide in those most close to you.
Exercise has been shown to increase endorphins and can reduce tension and anxiety.. Endorphins also stimulate the immune system. Exercise also reduces the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, as it naturally helps to lower stress.
Spend time relaxing in whichever way you find most effective, for example, writing, meditation, yoga, guided imagery, deep breathing. Self-soothing activities might include taking a warm shower or bath, using a special body wash, or aromatherapy that is soothing to the senses.
Getting adequate rest is an important part of coping with stress. Practice good sleep habits including going to bed and getting up at a regular time, avoiding naps during the day, reducing caffeine intake, and having a relaxing routine before bed.
Friends and Family Support
Support from friends and family can help reduce the impact of stress. Confide in close friends and family, share what is bothering you, and spend time together.
Take Part in Enjoyable Activities
Pleasurable and leisure activities are an important part of psychological well-being. Make sure to do the things that provide you with enjoyment and fun, like hobbies, sports, and social activities.
Eat a Healthy Diet
A healthy balanced diet is also important in effective stress management. Try not to skip meals and avoid foods high in additives, sugar, caffeine, and salt. Increase foods associated with lasting energy such as vegetables and whole grains.
Stress Awareness & Prevention
Notice stress before it builds! It’s easier to alleviate stress when it starts before it becomes overwhelming.
Deal With the Stressor or Avoid the Stressor Altogether
Try avoiding the stress altogether or alter the stressor as much as possible. Or you might try to adapt to the stressor and/or accept the stressor.
Avoid People who Stress you out
It is important not to continuously expose yourself to situations or people that cause you stress.
Focus on Areas in Your Life where you have Control
Try not to spend too much time focusing on areas in your life where you have little or no control. Focus on things you can control such as how you handle problems or react to them.
Learn how to say No
Set limits and boundaries for yourself. Do not take on more than you can handle and refuse added responsibilities if this is going to cause you stress.
Be more Assertive
Deal with problems head on and express yourself in situations you know have the potential to be stressful if you don’t.
Manage your time Better
Make sure you give yourself time to get to appointments so that you are not rushing and feel stressed. Plan ahead and don’t over extend yourself. With better time management you won’t be as stressed out.
Focus on the Big Picture/Put things into Perspective
Ask yourself if it is worth stressing out about the situation and in the long run how important is it to focus on this particular stressor.
Try to view stressful situations in more of a positive perspective. Restructure your thoughts related to the stressor so that you can look at different sides of the problem rather than be so focused on the negative aspects.
Volunteer Your Time
It is an important time to help others in need, and volunteering can help one feel needed and valued during this time. There are charities, food banks and other organizations that might need volunteers.
Most importantly, if everyday stress or holiday stress become more than you can bear, see a professional for help – a general practitioner, a psychologist or even a psychiatrist or counselor, if warranted. Watch the warning signs so that it doesn’t become a bigger problem.