Stress Management for the Holidays

If you live in Boulder and are looking for tips on stress management for the holidays, this blog post will guide you in the right direction.

For so many of us in our modern life, the holidays can bring up a roller coaster of emotions ranging from giddy and childlike excitement to overwhelming anxiety or debilitating depression.  Much of the stress we experience is connected to  expectations for that picture perfect, happy family or surrounded by friends and expensive gifts, a vision often promoted in the media by the corporations and local businesses.  As many years of holidays as I’ve lived through, I always seem to catch at least a brief ride on this seasonal roller coaster.

 

Stress management: Say yes to yourself this holiday season.

Reality is a bit different than the media would portray.  Life doesn’t stop because the holiday season is upon us.  This means that everyday stressors such as financial strain, family conflict and loneliness that happen any time of year can be what is present in our life during the holidays.  Major life losses such as divorce, death of a loved one, illness or injury, addictions and unemployment or anniversaries of these events means that many may be in the midst of the grieving process when the world around is expecting merriment.  Even without a major life upset, the pressures and cultural circumstances during the winter holiday season can serve as a catalyst to magnify our experience of stress.  It might feel like an easy way to escape for a while by jumping into the party scene, indulging in retail therapy or scarfing down the holiday treats in the staff room.  But are the consequences worth it?  Too many of us slowly awaken in January to a dazed state of regret from our isolation or guilt or remorse at the hangovers, added inches and credit card debt, or  feeling no closer to family or friends or that media promoted promised land of happiness.

Luckily we have a say in how we navigate the season and how we respond to our internal and external pressures to eat more, buy more and drink more.  If you are indeed struggling with a recent loss, ongoing mental health challenges, illness, isolation or family stress then stress management skills of self-care, compassion and putting yourself first, are of utmost importance.

The following suggestions can help reduce your stress,  while keeping you physically healthy, energized and open to experiencing more of the inherent joy of the season.  The truth is, these are simple suggestions that most of us may struggle with implementing any time of year with our busy lives.  It is also true that following these guidelines can make a profound and powerful difference in how you feel and experience this holiday season.

*Maintain your normal routine, including the times you eat your meals and the types of food you eat. When you have nourished yourself with good food it makes it easier to indulge in a few of your favorite holiday treats guilt free.

*Get plenty of sleep, (eight hours is ideal ) going to bed and wakening at the same time daily.

*Attend therapeutic appointments, support groups, healing sessions or doctor visits as normally scheduled.  There are many supportive professionals at the area’s new healing center Boulder Healing Hub making Boulder stress management this holiday season more than convenient.  For some it might be helpful to increase these supports this time of year rather than cut back.  Personally, this year I have gifted myself 2 massages this month and would highly recommend you check out Tina Tongen massage therapist extraordinaire at the Hub.  I recently enjoyed the experience of melting on the massage table in her very capable hands!

 *Get regular exercise, multiple times weekly if not daily. Get outside during daylight hours.

 *Maintain hobbies and interests and social connections.

 *Allow down time by yourself, away from crowds for reflection, practicing metta or meditation.  Take a hot epson salt bath with your favorite essential oils.  Take turns with your spouse getting free time from the kids and just read a book in front of a fire or the lighted Christmas tree.

*Minimize sugary foods and drinks, which tend to bring our body and mind out of balance in multiple ways, including contributing to feelings of depression.

*Drink plenty of water.  While last on the list, this tip is far from the least important.

In fact, you may have noticed that 5 out of the 8 suggestions include basic physical care such as food, hydration and exercise.  Being loving towards our bodies is essential for healthy functioning of our minds and moods.  Though seemingly simple, the impact of failing to attend to these basic needs is often powerful and destructive to our health and our peace.  The next time you notice an uptick in your stress or irritability ask yourself if you are hungry, thirsty or need a nap.  If you remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, these basics are the foundation, the fertile soil for further opening to our higher states of being.  When the basic needs are met, we naturally move towards our higher nature.  Taking time for meditation or mindfulness practices keeps us paradoxically grounded as well as open to further expansion into the connection and love inherent in the season.

 

Boulder stress management with reflection, meditation or prayer.

More practical tips for holiday self-care including all those parties and obligations:

It is okay to say “no” or “no thanks, I have other plans.”  These are complete statements and requires no further explanation. Can’t say no to a family or professional obligation?  Allow yourself to arrive late and give yourself the option to leave early.

Have special dietary needs?  Bring the food you know is best for you or plan and make time to eat before you attend a party.  Similarly, bring your own fun drinks if you are not drinking alcohol. Kombucha and flavored sparkling water or juice with seltzer are all festive options.

If you know of a friend who has had a recent loss or no family in town, invite them to join your festivities.  If you are the one alone and want to be with others there are many local churches or meditation sanghas providing services and holiday activities.  In fact one local minister, Roger Wolsey will be providing a non-denominational, inter-faith Blue Christmas service at a local funeral home Dec. 22 in Boulder for those in grief, or not feeling festive for any reason. Another classic option when feeling down is actually reaching out to others in need which is a known mood booster.  Volunteer opportunities near Boulder/Longmont

Finally, start your own holiday traditions that feed your soul.  There are as many possibilities as there are people in this world.  Perhaps babysit for that single working mom you know from work,  shovel the driveway for your elderly neighbor or deliver a cup of hot cocoa to the policeman directing traffic at the mall.

 

Wishing you a very merry and stress-free Christmas!

A few of my own life examples have included hosting a holiday gathering I called the “HannaKwanzaChristmas festivus for the rest of us shrimp extravaganza and open house.”  (Say that 5 times fast)!  The point is, make it fun, personalize it with your own favorite people, foods and traditions.

I have also enjoyed Christmas caroling at a local nursing home.  The residents came alive with delight as they sang along and it never failed to bring joy to my soul.

This year my sister is visiting from California and rather than stressing through shopping mall traffic and crowds for last minute gifts we have scheduled massages for ourselves to enjoy on Christmas eve day.

I encourage you this season to make time for the basic nurturing habits of good sleep, good food and staying hydrated and for cultivating activities that bring joy or maybe just a little more peace to others and ultimately to you.  Simply put, you’ll enjoy yourself more without buying into all the holiday pressures and fantasies and the world will indeed be a merrier place!

Wishing you all a peaceful, loving and healthy holiday season!

Mary Kay

This post is written by Mary Kay Irving, holistic nutritionist, psychotherapist and lifestyle coach at the Boulder Healing Hub.