7 ways to ward off stress during the holidays


It's OK if you're not necessarily feeling jolly this time of year. Here are some ways to cope.

You work hard and love your job, but sometimes it can be stressful. Add that with the stress you might experience during the holidays and you may feel you've hit your limit. After all, this is a time fraught with high expectations, family conflicts, jam-packed schedules, and financial stress. Dr. Colleen Carney, a sleep and depression expert and psychology professor at Ryerson University, offers this survival guide to help get people through the blues this festive season.

1.“It's the most wonderful time of the year.” For many, it's not so wonderful as singer Andy Williams suggests in his popular Christmas song. Adjusting your expectation to something more realistic will reduce the likelihood of disappointment. This time of year is supposed to be a holiday; a break-focusing on making it an actual break and taking good care of yourself is preferable to setting unrealistic goals.

2. Avoid being alone. When people feel down, they often avoid being around others, which increases the likelihood that their depression will worsen. Be sure to be around people this holiday season. This, however, does not mean you should subject yourself to acquaintances, friends, or family members who make you feel badly about yourself. Instead, limit the amount of time you have to spend with those who tend to have negative attitudes and surround yourself with close friends who can offer you lots of support and understanding.

3. Take better care of yourself. During the holidays, it is important to practice good self-care. Are you putting too much pressure on yourself? If the all-day family marathon produces dread and remorse, consider a change-reduce the time spent visiting, reduce your expectations, or plan a family holiday away instead).

4. Stay away from foods and drinks that make you feel worse. It's tempting to indulge yourself, but excess food or alcoholic beverages can make you feel uncomfortable, sluggish, or even guilty, leading to more intense feelings of depression. Caffeine, alcohol, and foods that produce an upset stomach or acid reflux/heartburn can interfere with sleep. Alcohol or caffeine can affect your mood and sleep patterns as well.

5. Mix it up. If the holiday season is miserable for you, why not try something completely new? Instead of sticking with traditions that make you unhappy, take a vacation. That may help you side-step the holiday blues. Anticipate that some people may not approve of your decision to break tradition, but give yourself permission to do the things that make you feel happiest.

6. Decide on a budget and stick to it. The holidays can be a source of financial stress. One way to manage this is to make a realistic plan and stick to it. Expensive gifts are unnecessary and are no more valuable than less expensive, thoughtful gifts. Simple meals give you more time with your guests-isn't it about the company anyway? Adjust your expectations to something manageable to minimize financial stress.

7. Talk to your doctor. Feeling depressed or unable to derive pleasure from activities for more than two weeks may be more than just the holiday blues. Talk to your doctor about whether you are suffering from clinical depression; there are effective treatments available.

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