Maximize Your Holiday
Challenges and Keep
Your Sparklers Bright
By: Dr. Diana Collins
Even the most laid back people can get a little harried during the holidays, which can often bring unwanted guests, such as stress and anxiety. Stress and depression have been linked to systemic disease, including organ damage, cardiac disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
It is possible to survive the holiday chaos if you know how to avoid the pitfalls, as well as understand the differences between good and bad stress and depression. And, with some practical tips, you will be able to enjoy the holidays more than you thought you could.
Good Stress (Eustress) vs. Bad Stress
Good stress is a motivator and propels us forward, which helps us achieve goals and accomplish tasks. It occurs in short bouts and leads us to feel happy and fulfilled. Examples of eustress include giving a speech or meeting a deadline. These bouts of stress are short and can enhance learning and brain function.
Bad stress, however, is prolonged and does not give the body time to recover from the fight or flight state that occurs when we are in an elevated stress situation. This is when bad stress can negatively affect our body’s immune, reproductive, excretory, and digestive systems. At times, other risk factors for stress, such as weight gain, memory loss, depression, and more, will weigh in heavily with bad stress.
How to Minimize Bad Stress
It is fair to say that you can never eliminate all stress from your life, but there are ways you can manage and cope with it to find more stability and calmness. These tips can help you during the holiday season or at any other time of the year:
Accept what you have to and change what you can. Don’t obsess over things you cannot change. For example, if you are stuck in traffic, listen to music or a book on tape while you wait.
Remind yourself to breathe by consciously taking deep breaths. By doing so, you are releasing tension.
Begin a daily meditation practice. Meditating first thing in the morning will set the tone for your day.
Movement helps. Do whatever gives you a release and energizes you, such as walking or yoga.
Remove yourself from whatever situation is the cause of your stress to keep it from escalating.
What Are the Symptoms of Holiday Stress?
How can you tell if a family member is suffering from holiday stress? Holiday stress can impact anyone, even children. Many people associate the holidays with family gatherings and rituals. These expectations can lead to stress. For others, this time of year may be difficult because of a lost loved one and lead to feelings of loneliness. The symptoms of holiday stress can surface as anxiety, sadness, headaches, body aches, inability to sleep, and irritability.
Holiday Tips for Stress
Make realistic expectations for the holidays; they don’t have to be perfect like last year.
Set realistic goals for yourself.
Pace yourself and acknowledge your feelings.
Make a list and prioritize the important activities. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, and so on.
Don’t put all your energy into one day.
Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.
Look to the future with optimism.
Live and enjoy the present.
Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by comparing the present with the past.
Try volunteering. Volunteering is a good way to lift your spirits and help you feel less lonely, as well as offer your support to others.
Try something new.
Limit your drinking, as drinking contributes to depression.
Find holiday activities that are free.
Spend time with supportive caring people.
Make contact with a long-lost friend or relative.
Reach out and make new friends, and set aside differences and accept family members and friends as they are.
Make time for yourself, and learn to say no.
Delegate. Let others share the responsibilities.
Track overspending and stick to a budget.
By following these tips and management strategies, you can navigate the whirlwind of holiday stress. However, it is important to know when to ask for, and seek, professional help. Contact a mental health professional if you are persistently sad or anxious and plagued by physical symptoms, like feeling hopeless or irritable, and you are unable to attend to your regular routine for several weeks, much like sparklers that have burned out. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have special training in treating mental and emotional disorders.
Look forward to this New Year with strategies to take you forward to a more authentic you with ways to mobilize and utilize eustress to propel you forward and minimize bad stress in your life.
About Dr. DIANA COLLINS M.D.
Dr. Diana Collins earned her medical degree at the University of Texas Health Science Center in 1992, finished her residency in General Psychiatry in 1995, and completed a Fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 1997. She has been in private practice since 1997 and has had her own office in Sugar Land since 1999.
Voted Most Outstanding Psychiatrist, Reader’s Choice Award, Fort Bend County 2018.
KNOWAutism Ambassador 2019.