Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Health Care and Holiday Stress

Feeling a little stressed over the Christmas holiday season? While it may be the official season to be merry, for many, the holidays are a time of stress, loneliness, anxiety and dysfunction according to ThirdAge.com. Family tensions, financial stress and physical demands are three areas can trigger holiday stress or depression. So what does one due when it's the season to be jolly, but you're feeling anything but jolly? When stress is at its peak, it's hard to stop and regroup. Take steps to help prevent normal holiday depression from progressing into chronic depression.

According to About.com, According to the American Institute of Stress, more than 110 million Americans take medication for stress related causes each week. When the holidays come along, people already predisposed to stress can find themselves feeling blue and more stressed out than usual. For those who don't ordinarily feel stressed under the pressure of events or deadlines, the holidays can still play havoc with our lives. So what can we do? Plan for stress, say the experts, just like you plan ahead for any calamity you want to avoid. The good news is you don't have to let stress ruin your holidays. Try to pinpoint what you're anxious about. Are you feeling stressed because you're not going to be able to fulfill your children's gift requests? Are you and your spouse wrangling over holiday expenses? Are you feeling left out because your friends are enjoying the season and you're not? Start by considering your attitude. There's no magic bullet, but your attitude can make a difference. Ask yourself: Is your situation a small, medium or large problem? How upset do you want to get over it, and for how long? Look at the possibilities around you, not the restrictions.

Peace, Joy and many guests (sometimes unwelcome guests) like Depression and Stress, which can affect your health and ruin your holidays, according to Tribunact.com. Planning ahead, being realistic and seeking Help (support) in time of need can help rid depression and stress. Some people will find themselves in a whirlwind of demands - work, family, shopping, cleaning, care giving for elderly or kids on school break, cooking, parties, funerals, visiting the sick, studying and many other activities. So much for peace, joy and the pursuit of happiness, right? However, some simple guidelines can minimize and help alleviate the depression and stress that often are part of the holiday season. You may even end up enjoying the holiday more than you ever thought you could!

According to Tribunact, holiday depression and stress are often the result of three predominate trigger points. Understanding these trigger points can help us plan ahead on how to accommodate them:
1.) Finances - Our financial situation can cause stress at any time of the year (just like our relationships). However, in a sluggish economy, overspending during the holidays on gifts, clothing, travel, food, and entertainment can increase stress as we try to make ends meet while ensuring that everyone on our gift list is Happy.
2.) Relationships - Our relationships can cause conflict, stress and dysfunction at any time. But tensions are heightened during the holidays. Family and marital conflict and misunderstanding can intensify. With so many needs to accommodate, specifically with family from out of town that we have not seen in a while, we may feel overwhelmed. On the other hand, if we are facing the holidays without loved ones or family, we may find ourselves especially lonely, sad or depressed
3.) Physical demands - Partying, cooking and shopping can exhaust us. Feeling exhausted increases stress levels. Sleep and exercise are very healing, curing and can relieve stress; however, we are usually sleep deprived during holidays, as our physical demands are heighten due to the extra demands, as well as overeating and drinking, which are all ingredients for holidays illness.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), money issues were the top vote getters for holiday stress, according to a recent poll. The Survey found that 61% of Americans listed lack of money as the top cause of holiday stress followed by the pressures of gift giving, lack of time, and credit card debt. Survey results also show that younger Americans are more worried about lack of money and gift giving compared to people over the age of 35. One in five Americans are worried that holiday stress could affect their physical health and 36% say they either eat or drink alcohol to cope with holiday stress. Forty-five percent say they rely on exercise to relieve stress while 44% turn to religious and spiritual activities. A small number turn to massage and yoga. People tend to reduce stress in ways they have learned over the course of time because they turn to what they know. Ironically, they may take comfort from eating or drinking because it’s familiar, even though it’s not good for their health. But, there are other behaviors people can learn to further relieve stress and the its effects that may be both better for them and longer lasting.

According to About.com, the holidays can play havoc with our health. In winter people tend to crave fats and sweets, but ironically, the more fat and sugar you eat, the less energy you have, and the more stressed and run down you feel. Most people are surrounded by holiday sweets and treats. Begin eating in moderation. Reprogram your thinking. Don't think if some is good, more is better. Nutrition can play a big part in reducing stress. When your body is not operating at peak efficiency, you feel stressed, and your immune system is not operating at the level it should be. Eat simple--an apple instead of a piece of apple pie--for keeping the stress levels down. Cut back on fat sources, make butter cookies with margarine instead of butter, and don't forget to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. When you eat simple foods, you have a better chance of alleviating holiday stress. Enjoy the people instead of the food.

ThirdAge.com recommends the following tips to help alleviate stress during the Holidays:
--Acknowledge your feelings: If a loved one has recently died or you aren't near your loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness or grief. It's OK now and then to take time just to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.
--Seek support: If you feel isolated or down, seek out family members and friends, or community, religious or social services. They can offer support and companionship. Consider volunteering at a community or religious function. Getting involved and helping others can lift your spirits and broaden your social circle. Also, enlist support for organizing holiday gatherings, as well as meal preparation and cleanup. You don't have to go italone. Don't be a martyr.
--Be realistic: As families change and grow,traditions often change as well. Hold on to those you can and want to. But understand in some cases that may no longer be possible. Perhaps your entire extended family can't gather together at your house. Instead, find new ways to celebrate together from afar, such as sharing pictures, e-mails or videotapes.
--Set differences aside: Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. With stress and activity levels high, the holidays might not be conducive to making quality time for relationships. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are, they're feeling the effects of holiday stress, too.
--Stick to a budget: Before you go shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend on gifts and other items. Then be sure to stick to your budget. If you don't, you could feel anxious and tense for months afterward as you struggle to pay the bills. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Donate to a charity in someone's name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
--Plan ahead: Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make one big food-shopping trip. That'll help prevent a last-minute scramble to buy forgotten ingredients — and you'll have time to make another pie, if the first one's a flop. Allow extra time for travel so that delays won't worsen your stress.
--Learn to say no: Believe it or not, people will understand if you can't do certain projects or activities. If you say yes only to what you really want to do, you'll avoid feeling resentful and overwhelmed. If it's really not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
--Don't abandon healthy habits: Don't let the holidays become a dietary free-for-all. Some indulgence is OK, but overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and schedule time for physical activity.
--Take a breather: Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Steal away to a quiet place, even if it's the bathroom, for a few moments of solitude. Take a walk at night and stargaze.Listen to soothing music. Find something that clears your mind, slows yourbreathing and restores your calm.
--Rethink resolutions: Resolutions can set you up for failure if they're unrealistic. Don't resolve to change your whole life to make up for past excess. Instead, try to return to basic, healthy lifestyle routines. Set smaller, more specific goals with a reasonable time frame. Choose only those resolutions that help you feel valuable and provide more than only fleeting moments of happiness.
--Forget about perfection: Holiday TV specials are filled with happy endings. But in real life, people don't usually resolve problems within an hour or two. Something always comes up. You may get stuck late at the office and miss your daughter's school play, your sister may dredge up an old argument, you may forget to put nuts in the cake, and your mother may criticize how you and your partner are raising the kids. All in the same day. Expect and accept imperfections.
--Seek professional help if you need it: Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for several weeks, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. You may have depression. Remember that one key to minimizing holiday stress and depression is knowing that the holidays can trigger stress and depression. Accept that things aren't always going to go as planned. Then take active steps to manage stress and depression during the holidays. You may actually enjoy the holidays this year more than you thought you could.

Here are some very quick tips to reduce stress, according to About.com:
--Have a positive attitude.
--Try not to worry about things out of your control.
--Problem solve with people around you. Ask them to help you alleviate stress.
--Exercise. A few extra minutes of exercise a day can benefit your overall health.
--Eat Nutritional food. Decrease the amount of fat and sugar you eat.
--Meditate, or take a class in relaxation and stretching techniques --like Tai Chi or Yoga.
--Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages
--Rest. Try to get eight hours of sleep each day.
--Get a massage. A massage can be beneficial for the mind and body.

According to About.com, exercise is another important stress reducer---particularly during the winter, when many people aren't as active as they are during other times of the year. Experts say exercise is one of the best ways to combat stress and anxiety. And you can make a difference to your health regime by adding just 10 minutes of exercise to your daily routine. And, walking is one of the healthiest ways to reduce stress. You can organize your activities so they include walking. Walk before the holiday dinner, walk after the dinner. While fitness programs are beneficial, it's easy to add exercise by just changing the patterns of your life. For example, divide laundry into several small loads, then make several trips up the stairs. It takes more time, but you're helping your physical and emotional well being when you do it this way. Another way to add in more exercise is to park as far as away from the shopping centers as possible. Do not drive around looking for the closest place to the front door. Park away from the crowds. The extra exercise from walking is a health benefit--to say nothing of the fact that you might avoid a fender bender in a congested parking area--a stressful situation in itself. Plus, you'll be more motivated to add exercise in your life if you "partner" with a friend.

Finally, after all you can do to alleviate stress during the Holidays, learn to depend upon spiritual guidance and strength. According to About.com, somewhere along the way the stress, the unrealistic expectations, the unreasonable demands, and all that other negative stuff show ups and the next thing you know, you're depressed, over-tired, and dreading one more day during the so-called "holiday season." If you have kids, decide what's truly important and necessary as a family. This is a great time to teach your kids the difference between giving and receiving. Let extended family members know well in advance of your holiday season plans. Explain that as a family, you've decided to change your focus to things that can make a difference for someone else. Perhaps that means there will be less gift giving amongst family members and more to needy families. Or perhaps it means you won't be spending every available dollar on decorations and holiday parties, but rather on things that will make your family truly understand and appreciate the intent of the season. It is important to set the example for extended family members. You'll be surprised how others will follow your lead. They just need someone to show them the way.

And, as a family, evaluate all your scheduled holiday activities, according to About.com. Only participate in those that you can honestly say you're attending because they bring you joy and contribute to your Christian holiday season. If, on the other hand, you're dreading that party or that holiday event and only attend because you feel pressure to meet the expectations of other people, then perhaps it's time to let people in on your change in direction. It may upset some people initially, but taking back control of your holidays won't always make everyone else happy. Pleasing God and keeping your sanity must take the highest priority. The holiday season is a great opportunity to let others see you "walk the walk" and "talk the talk." Additionally, God always looks at motive, no matter what you do. Now is the time to re-evaluate what you're spending, and why you're spending it. It may not be easy to change your overspending holiday habits, but it's better to take small steps than none at all. The world continues to get more commercialized, so you can bet God will honor all your efforts to keep the focus where it should be. And you can also bet He will appreciate your efforts to set the right example for your family and friends. Plus, pray that He provides the wisdom, joy, and strength to get you through.

Finally, remember the real "Reason for the Season." Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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