Archive for Thursday, December 21, 2006

Feeling stressed? Tips ease holiday pressures

December 21, 2006

Holiday cheer is often an oxymoron for many people - the seemingly endless list of to-dos can be draining and overwhelming. And, overindulgent eating, drinking and spending go hand-in-hand with the holiday season.

So how can you avoid acting like a Scrooge?

"People often feel the need to isolate themselves in times of high stress and depression," said Samuel Dandar, family practice physician with St. Luke's Medical Group at Cushing Memorial Hospital in Leavenworth. "But the best thing you can do is to keep yourself surrounded by people."

The human body was designed to not only handle stress but thrive on it. In fact, stress is what keeps us alert and wary of dangerous situations. When stress becomes constant and relentless, however, it begins to cause damage to the body, often resulting in headaches, chest pain, elevated blood pressure, indigestion and problems sleeping.

"Continuous stress can upset the body's sense of equilibrium," Dandar said. "Holiday stress is especially important to manage because of its correlation with depression."

Dandar recommends the following to keep your holiday happy:

¢ Keep moving: Maintain your regular exercise routine for optimal stress management. Exercise will lower blood pressure, relax tense muscles, help you sleep and will cause your body to release feel-good chemicals called endorphins.

¢ Don't overindulge: Though overindulging may be tempting, eat and drink in moderation as you normally would. Excessive alcohol can worsen feelings of distress and depression.

¢ Pare your to-do list: Condense your traditions and to-dos in a list that contains only those tasks that are the most positive. Stick this on your refrigerator.

¢ Set a schedule: If you still feel overwhelmed, create a schedule that you can easily follow - begin with your highest priorities and be sure to set aside time for yourself.

¢ Breathe deep: In moments or even days of high stress during the holiday season (such as the week before Christmas), practice deep breathing, meditation or muscle relaxation techniques.

¢ Take the time to appreciate the season and find the joy in giving.

The holidays also can be a stressful, anxious time for children. The key, Dandar said, (though children may not like it) is to limit television time.

"The flood of commercials associated with the holiday season can cause high levels of stress in children," Dandar said. "The more family activity, the higher the stress level - the most important thing in easing a child's anxiety is to simplify."

Dandar says children's high stress levels often manifest themselves in bouts of bad behavior, which some extra positive attention should help correct.

Luckily, holiday stress is predictable because it has a definite beginning and end. Stay positive and enjoy those activities that will keep your holiday jolly.

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