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January 24, 2020

12/5/2019 9:33:00 AM
A few options for reducing holiday stress

For many people, the holiday season is not a time of joy, but a time of great stress.
One of the biggest sources of stress during the holidays is expectations - those that others have of us and also those we impose on ourselves. Women, in particular, often feel pressure to bake, shop, decorate, host parties and coordinate schedules, essentially doing too much for too many over a short period of time.
Holidays can be financially stressful for many people, too, because, quite literally, our schedules fill up and our pocketbooks empty.
How can we ease stress around the holidays and ensure that our well-being is a priority? Self-care is an important place to start.
Get enough sleep, build enough physical activity into the day, and plan to eat healthy foods, in addition to the special treats that we may choose to indulge in. Moderation in eating and drinking is a great strategy.
Another strategy to help prevent holiday stress is to plan in advance. Begin with asking the question, "What is most important to you and those around you?"
Think about which activities, rituals and gatherings have the most meaning. Get input and don't be afraid to make some changes. Ask for help!
We don't have to do it all alone - enlist others, set priorities, simplify and let go of perfectionism. I love the trend now to "gift" time and experiences rather than more physical stuff.
It can also be helpful to focus on flexibility. Don't be afraid to change even the most hallowed holiday tradition if it is not working for you or your loved ones anymore.
Mindfulness, or being in the present moment, can be a superpower during the holidays. Sound easy? It is actually quite difficult.
We spend much of our time either contemplating the past or anticipating the future. When we are in a mindful state, we are more attentive to those around us, we listen more, anticipate needs and enjoy the moment, including the sights, sounds and smells of all that is around us.
Mindfulness can reduce stress in other ways. When we gather with family and friends, there also can be tension that arises from old patterns, family dynamics, unrealistic expectations, and poor communication.
Mindfulness helps us be more self-aware and notice in the moment what we are feeling.
I'm often asked what to do when a family member picks a fight around the holiday table. In short, be realistic and plan for what might happen, so if you have a family member who creates drama every year when you get together, don't expect that it won't happen again this year.
If it's happened for nine out of the last 10 years, anticipate it. Don't be surprised. Instead, think about how to take the high road. Think about ways to keep their behavior in perspective.
This holiday season, remember that nobody is perfect - including you. If you had to pare down your holiday to its essential core, what would it be? Most people feel that the holidays are about spending time with loved ones - try to find the least stressful way to do whatever is most important to you.
If you'd like to explore more ideas about holiday stress or learn more about your own well-being, the Bakken Center's website, Taking Charge of Your Health and Well-being, is a great source of information. There are also some great articles on Healthy Holiday Tips, Mindful Eating, Mindful Holiday Giving and When the Holidays Aren't Joyful. Learn more at takingcharge.csh.umn.edu
Mary Jo Kreitzer PhD, RN, FAAN is the founder and director of the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota, where she also serves as a tenured professor in the School of Nursing. Within the School of Nursing, Dr. Kreitzer is the co-lead of the doctorate of nursing practice program in integrative health and healing.

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