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November 20, 2012 > The Most Wonderful Time of Year or Sheer Madness?

The Most Wonderful Time of Year or Sheer Madness?

Learn How to Cope with Holiday Stress

Tis' the season for parties, presents, and good cheer. But it can also be a stressful time filled with to-do lists and family obligations.

"We think of the holiday season as the most wonderful time of year, but for many it's sheer madness," said Ruth Traylor, Washington Hospital's Director of Community Outreach. "We scramble to shop and cook, and spend hours on a plane or in the car to get to family gatherings. We spread ourselves too thin and the result is often stress and unhappiness rather than joy and merriment."

Traylor said now is a good time to think about what causes most of the stress and find ways to avoid it. She offered a few tips for coping with holiday stress and instead stay healthy and sane this year.

Practice patience. Remember that everyone else is having the same experience you are trying to do too much in a short amount of time. Patience often wears thin. Slow down. If you have to go to the mall or the store during busy times, surrender to the long lines and crowds.

Plan ahead. Make lists so that you know what you need to buy and what you have to get done. Plan your schedule and allow more time for shopping and travel to avoid the need to rush. List your errands in order and plan your route so you can make a loop. That way you don't waste time (and gas) backtracking.

Stay hydrated. She said that may sound like an odd tip, but dehydration causes stress. The body and brain function more efficiently when water levels are adequate. She recommends drinking six to eight glasses of water a day.

Get enough sleep. That may be hard during the holidays when normal routines are often interrupted, but it's critical that you do. Maintain your usual sleep patterns and allow time to wind down before bedtime so you can get a good night's sleep.

Take a deep breath. According to Traylor, humans come with an innate ability for relaxation and calming. Slow deep breaths clear the mind and recharge the body. Filling the body with oxygen actually helps to calm you down.

Eat right. The holidays are filled with many tempting treats. It's fine to indulge in some, but you want to be careful about overdoing it. Unfortunately, stress often leads to overeating, so it creates a vicious cycle. Make sure you find room for plenty of fruits and vegetables because they provide essential vitamins and minerals that help to strengthen the immune system and reduce stress.

Make time for a workout. Exercise helps reduce stress and improve your overall sense of well-being. It also helps to avoid weight gain. Busy schedules may make it hard to get to the gym, but it doesn't need to be a formal workout.
Take a brisk walk or bike ride whenever you can fit it in.

Be grateful. Research shows that an attitude of gratitude calms the body and elevates energy levels, according to Traylor. Grateful, optimistic people are actually healthier. Always thank people in writing, in person, or by phone for invitations and gifts.

Create new traditions. If you dread the holidays, change what you do to celebrate them. When you spend time with the same relatives every year and don't enjoy it, it may be time to do something different. It might mean creating new less stressful ways to celebrate or finding a new activity you can enjoy with friends and loved ones. It may just mean simplifying what you do.

"Keep in mind the holidays are a time for remembrance, connection, and love," Traylor added. "Decide to have a great holiday season with family, friends, and coworkers. Overlook disagreements by agreeing to disagree. Forgive and let go of the past. And if you find yourself struggling with old baggage, take a deep breath and focus on remembrance, connection, and love."

For information about programs and services that can help you and your loved ones stay healthy all year long, visit

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