They’re coming: Thanksgiving; Hanukkah; Christmas; and New Year. Weeks of potential, nonstop stress are right around the corner. And, all of that is followed by seemingly endless bills, three or four months of miserable weather, and tax season. What could be better? Medically speaking, all of this can lead to a perfect storm of illness. Too much stress and too little sleep can set the stage for everything from colds, flu, and pneumonia, to hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes out of control. The discussion about holiday stress aggravating anxiety and depression could fill a book.
The reality is difficult to deny. During this wonderful but weird time, millions of people will go places they really don’t want to go. They will do things they really don’t want to do. And, in many cases, they will visit people they don’t even like. This is not necessary. Too many activities, too much chaos, noise, and stress, not to mention too many calories and too little sleep, combine to create a physiologic disaster. Before the madness begins, a few principles of prevention may help:
- Minimize caffeine and alcohol. Alcohol is loaded with empty calories and will disrupt normal sleep architecture.
- Avoid holiday exhaustion. It’s okay to decline invitations. Try not to go out two nights in a row and schedule some quiet time instead.
- Make time for exercise. It will help dissipate stress, boost energy, and facilitate better sleep.
- Avoid unrealistic expectations. Don’t try to recreate a Norman Rockwell scene. It puts too much pressure on everyone.
- Aim for a few lovely memories—not a credit card extravaganza. Overspending is a major contributor to holiday stress.
- Be prepared to overlook a lot. Everyone has annoying relatives. We can’t control what they say or do, but we can control our response to it. Don’t let a thoughtless remark ruin the day for everyone.
In short, managing holiday stress involves a healthy dose of common sense. Don’t overeat, overindulge, overreact, or overspend. Do try to have a healthy routine with a little less food, a lot less chaos, and for more rest. That’s a good plan for any time of the year.