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Strategies for low-stress solutions

Avoiding anxiety through the year can alleviate holiday stress

Avoiding anxiety through the year can alleviate holiday stress

December 24, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Launching a pre-emptive strike against holiday stress will aid more than your mood.

It might help your health.

Stress - which studies have linked to heart disease and depression, among other conditions - is on the rise this time of year.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with holiday stress, but people are able to prevent some forms of stress by adopting a few strategies.

"The better able you are to take care of yourself and make decisions for yourself (and) your family and engage in good coping behavior during the year, the better you're able to do it during the holidays," says Dr. Dan Abrahamson, assistant executive director in the practice division of the American Psychological Association.

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Here are some recommended ways to avoid stress during the holiday season:

· First, determine what stresses you out.

If it were as easy as it sounds,"we'd have a lot less stress-related illnesses in the world. This is a skill you develop over a lifetime," Abrahamson says.

Usually, people are aware of stress as it comes, but they don't consider the decisions that contribute to that stress, Abrahamson says.

That part requires a bit of self-reflection.

Dr. William Prescott, who practices adult psychiatry at Brook Lane Health Services near Hagerstown, says he asks his patients to visualize themselves in situations that cause them stress.

"Then I tell them to ask themselves, 'This is what you tend to do, but is this what you should do?'" Prescott says.

· Just say no.

Once you've determined what stresses you out, be prepared to make some difficult decisions, Abrahamson says.

That could mean saying no to preparing a huge dinner, attending the obligatory holiday party, or buying a bunch of expensive gifts.

"You might feel guilty for not going out and buying gifts, but you'll feel better because you've spent less money, you didn't sit in traffic and spend time in the mall being irritable," Abrahamson says.

Instead, focus on things that make you happy during the holidays.

"What is it about the holidays that's meaningful to you?" Abrahamson says.

· Don't take on too much.

A survey released by the American Psychological Association this time last year queried 786 adults on holiday stress. The majority of the responders, 67 percent, cited lack of time as a source of stress during the holidays.

Prescott says succumbing to pressure and unreasonable demands is a common trigger for stress this time of year.

"We tell people not to accept the 'Superman' or 'Superwoman' image, the idea that you are responsible for everything," Prescott says. "Just be realistic about what you can do and what you can't do."

Or, "Do things one at a time," Prescott says.

All of this goes back to learning to say no, Abrahamson says.

"Sometimes, it's just doing nothing," he says, "saying, 'Nope, I really don't need to do this.'"

· Don't binge on alcohol or comfort food; it creates more stress.

When faced with stress, people often resort to unhealthy behavior such as drinking or eating comfort foods to ease it, Abrahamson says.

"You have to ask yourself, is that really helping or is that going to create other problems? Am I going to end up feeling worse?" Abrahamson says.

· Avoid getting sick.

Pre-empt illness and you might be able to pre-empt some stress, as sickness can be a source of stress, Abrahamson says.

He says much of it goes back to the things your mother and grandmother used to say - washing your hands, drinking plenty of water and getting plenty of rest.

Prescott says exercise also helps.

"We're not talking about going to the gym for two hours, three times a week," he said.

A brisk walk is often enough to "recharge your battery," Prescott says.

· Stand up to commercialism.

"Do something meaningful," Abrahamson said. People often translate this as doing something special for other people - volunteering or donating to a charitable cause.

"These are things that connect you back to the holiday season. In a society where commercialism is a fact of life," Abrahamson said.

In the American Psychological Association's holiday stress survey, commercialism was the third leading cause of stress, with time and money listed as the biggest and second-biggest stressors, respectively, during the holidays.

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