While the holidays are meant to be a time of joy, they can also be a time of stress for many people due to pressure, conflict, or feeling overwhelmed by expectations. A lack of time, expectation to spend more money and the pressure of gift giving are a number of factors that can contribute to stress during the holiday season.
According to a study by the American Heart Association, there is an increase in the occurrence of heart attacks and heart-related deaths during the holiday season, which may be due to stress, heavy alcohol consumption, a fatty diet, or a combination.
“Stress causes a number of both short-term and long-term adverse effects on the body, and it can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity,” said cardiologist Dr. Caitlin Giesler of Ascension Seton Heart Institute, part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system. “It’s important that we monitor our stress levels, particularly during the holidays, and find ways to manage our stress.”
Five tips for keeping stress at bay
Giesler offers these tips for managing holiday stress:
- Limit spending
- Set a budget to ensure all your usual expenses are accounted for, and plan for any additional holiday spending including travel plans and parties you may be hosting. Budget for what you have to spend on gifts – be organized and realistic.
- Avoid temptation by limiting the amount of time you spend at stores or the shopping mall. Manage impulsive spending by taking a list of gifts to buy and taking only the amount of cash you need, leaving credit cards at home.
- Manage expectations
- Remember what is important during the holiday season to help manage your expectations. Hosting the perfect party or giving the perfect gift is less important than the quality time spent with friends and family.
- Take some time out to recharge and refocus – be sure that you find time to relax to recharge your body and mind.
- Avoid over-indulging
- Excessive stress raises appetites and cravings for sugary and fatty foods, and chronic drinking can lead to increased stress levels. Families should aim to maintain a healthy diet during the holidays to avoid weight gain and additional stress.
- Maintain a healthy diet by eating high-protein snacks throughout the day so you don’t over-indulge on one meal. Make simple food swaps, like eating whole-wheat bread instead of white or brown rice instead of white. Be mindful of portion sizes, especially when enjoying seasonal treats.
- Go for a walk
- Regular exercise can help lower stress levels by decreasing tension and boosting and stabilizing your mood. Exercise releases endorphins that improve your ability to sleep and reduce stress.
- Have some fun
- Laughter goes a long way in helping to lighten your mood and can minimize the stress you bring to holiday celebrations. Laughter stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and also releases endorphins.