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Getting Through "the Most Stressful Time of the Year"
12/16/2013 8:33:41 PM

By Dr. Eudene Harry

What makes you anxious this season?

Large family dinners?
Shopping frenzy/financial issues?
Thought of overextending?
Weight gain that comes with holiday season?

If you are feeling like the Grinch who stole Christmas, you are not alone, but there is no need to be sucked into the misery loves company whirlpool. In fact, you may have noticed that the more you wallow, the worse you feel. Here are some simple steps that may help you to keep your spirits up during some of the more stressful events of the holiday season.

Family Dinners:

1. Manage expectations. Not the end of the world if things don't go perfectly. If you are going to spend time thinking about it why not make them optimistic thoughts. Anticipation of the events creates the same stress reaction as the event so why live through it longer than you have to.

2. Train like an athlete for that day. To enhance their performance athletes often times visualize the plays they want they want to make, the muscles they want to use. Build your own muscles.

3. In every large family gathering, there are people you want to avoid and people that you enjoy interacting with. Maximize time spent with people you enjoy, politely excuse yourself from those that drain your energy.

4. Dinner at your house- ask for help!


1. You make poor decisions when you are in that fight or flight warrior mode. Large crowds, pushing, long traffic lines all add up to induce this response. Your purchases can become more emotional and impulsive. So try to avoid that. Try shopping on the Internet. Shop early or late to avoid crowds. Be well rested and fed before you go. In the middle of crazy, take some time to decompress so your cognitive brain can start working with your emotional brain.

2. Budget and say no to additional credit cards that tend you to give you the illusion than you are starting with a clean slate and its piece a cake to pay off because this would be in addition to the other expenses that you have. So don't be seduced into financially over extending yourself. Remember, according to Thoreau, the price of anything is the amount of life we exchange for it. Holiday financial stresses can last a long time.


1. Just say no. You do not have to attend every function, say yes to all requests for baked good and yes to hosting family dinner. Before you automatically say yes to all incoming request, try: thank you for inviting me, I need to check my calendar to be sure there are no conflicts. Let me get back to you. Children need baked goods for school, hooray for supermarkets and specialty shops. Not rocking the boat at the expense of your well-being might leave you with lots of time (home sick with the flu) to think about what a crappy holiday you had. Stress affects immune system.

2. A lot to do- make a plan. Today you will grocery shop, tomorrow you will visit Aunt Mary, etc. Make a list. Today it is easier than ever to make list, after all there are several apps for that. When possible, delegate.

3. Get your useful 7-8 hours of sleep. Lack of sleep will leave you more prone to making poor decisions, dragging in energy the next day, not to mention more prone irritability and anxiety. Hello bah humbug!

4. Incorporate some relaxation time during the day. It can be as simple as taking 5 minutes to breathe in and out slowly and deeply. This type of breathing has been shown to decrease stress levels and heart rate and has been even associated with other benefits such as lowering blood pressure. In the mood for a more elaborate ritual, how about a bath with a magnesium salt and an essential oil such as lavender. It can help to soothe those sore muscles and relax the mind.

Weight Gain: The dreaded holiday weight gain of 5 to 15 pounds is on everyone's minds this holiday season. This is not the time to relinquish your power to all the holiday treats and excessive flow of alcohol. Start with the rules that have worked for you all year:

1. Start the day with a good breakfast to reduce temptation at work with all treats lying around.

2. Don't give up your other healthy eating habits such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins. Junk foods have been shown to negatively impact moods.

3. Before attending any function, eat a healthy snack so you are not starving. You make poor decisions if you are starving and will eat everything in sight.

4. Limit alcoholic beverages and try to stick to wines and champagnes with measureable calories. The calories and alcohol in mixed drinks can add up very fast. Eggnog- need I say more.

5. Finally, don't beat up on yourself if you slip up. That makes you feel bad about yourself and what do you do when you feel bad about yourself- That's right you eat high caloric, high sugar foods.

Holiday Blues:

1. Friends during this season are more important than ever. More and more studies show that people who have a network of friends and a social support group not only handle stress better but they also live longer as well. One reason- the act of bonding and friendship causes the release of the bonding neurochemical Oxytocin in the brain. This substance has the ability to calm us and give us a warm fuzzy feeling synonymous with the Christmas spirit.

2. Keep up with your exercise routine. Even though the jostling and pushing at the mall left you feeling like you have been in championship playoff basketball game, tit is not the exercise that your body needs to feel strong and rejuvenated. Try some yoga instead or walking or bike riding- anything that feels restorative.

3. There is an increase rate of depression around the holiday season. If you are experiencing prolonged or excessive sadness or anxiety please do not hesitate to get help. If you have had a recent tragedy or major life event you may not be in a festive mood. You may need time and help to work through your feelings so take it.

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