The winter holiday season is a time for people to come together, celebrate and reflect, but it can also bring plenty of stress. While it may not be possible to avoid stress completely during the holidays, there are techniques to minimize it and find some relief. Drexel Family Medicine physician Maya Bass, MD, MA, answers some common questions to help get you through the holiday season and beyond.
Why do people find the holidays stressful?
There are many factors that cause stress at this time of year. People tend to spend the holidays with family, and family can be wonderful but it can also be triggering for people. You also have people in the same room together who are not often in the same space, so that can create some tension or anxiety. Additionally, many people hold the belief that everything has to be perfect. Holding yourself to this belief or striving for perfection can lead to feelings of failure or inadequacy.
There are also lifestyle factors that contribute to stress. During the holidays, people tend to spend more time inside, they exercise less, and they eat foods that are higher in sugar and lower in nutritional content. People tend to be busier this time of year due to family, job and other obligations, which can be overwhelming and cause people to not sleep as well or not focus on the things they need to be doing to keep themselves well.
What can happen if someone doesn't properly deal with their stress?
Stress can show up in people in many different ways. Occasionally it can cause people to get frequent colds because they're not taking care of themselves. People come in with aches and pains which get worse when their stress is out of control. They experience acid reflux and headaches. When people don't have outlets for their stress or have things they do every day to stay healthy, they also come in with more anxiety and depression.
Is there a way to prevent stress entirely?
Life can be difficult and a lot of things can happen. However, when you're in a place of wellness where you feel pretty balanced, things that come up that are stressful, don't stress you out. Instead, they become a moment where you're like, “Okay, I just have to figure this out.” For example, if I have a headache, I make sure that I get a good night's sleep, drink plenty of water during the day and practice some meditation. And the headache goes away. This is better than taking a bunch of ibuprofen, chugging along and hoping for the best. You might get rid of that headache for that moment, but it's going to come back.
What tips do you give your patients to relieve stress?
I typically ask them how much time they have first. You can do something each day to improve wellness. So if you only have five seconds, you can do something as easy as taking deep breaths—taking a deep slow-breath in so that you fill up your lungs, and then exhaling, or sighing, it out of your mouth, and repeating it a couple of times.
If you have a few more minutes, you can do something like talk to your loved ones about what you're grateful for, while focusing on positive things that happened during the day. If you have a little more time than that, meditation is a really great thing. There are free meditations available on YouTube. My favorite meditation for the holidays is loving-kindness, because it focuses on sending well-wishes to your loved ones, which feels really nice this time of year.
Getting outside, even though it's cold, is another great way to help relieve stress. Bundle up, walk or go for a hike. You can even do this with friends or family. Additionally, you can try new exercise routines, such as yoga or pilates. There are a lot of YouTube beginner's classes that can last as little as five minutes and can really improve well-being.
I also talk to my patients about food. Everyone loves the cookie that their grandmother makes, and having one is fine, but having a plate of them is tough on your body. Remember to eat vegetables and other healthy food amongst your more tasty treats.
Finally, try to get sleep. In regards to how many hours you should get a night, there's no perfect number for each person, but make sure you have a healthy sleep schedule. This means that you're going to sleep around the same time and waking up around the same time every day.