Put the happy back in your holiday season

Everyone feels added stress around the holidays. Whether it is the financial burden associated with the season of giving, or time constraints when dealing with travel and fitting in visits with family, the holidays can be very complicated. Luckily, several local experts have suggestions for both coping with and preventing stress this holiday season.

Change Your Perspective

“We live in a society where holidays are more about meeting expectations or continuing traditions and that can be hard,” Char Harris, NP, Behavioral Health Services, said. “Most households require two full-time incomes and it may not be realistic to expect one person to do all the meal preparation and hosting.”

Char’s solution: Instead, have the host prepare maybe one dish and ask that everyone else pitch in with the other sides. If there is not a simple solution to family gatherings, Char suggests changing the tradition and simplifying the way you celebrate.

Alter Existing Traditions

For example, if gift-giving is the cause of stress, it may not be reasonable to ask that everyone purchase gifts or open them all at the same time.

“Some members of a family may be able to afford large, expensive items and others may not,” she said. “In order to spare feelings, especially if children are involved, it may be better to just focus on the family gathering and appreciate being together.”

Changing perspective or complicated traditions and focusing on the real meaning of the holidays all help Char and her family to “keep it simple and keep it real.”

“It’s okay to evolve tradition,” Char said. “You just have to give yourself permission to change and create the holiday experience that’s best for you and your family.”

Limit Children’s Media Exposure

In order to set proper expectations for children, Char said to limit the amount of media children are exposed to approaching the holidays.

“Limiting ad exposure can help reduce the number of ‘wants’ they have,” she said. “We try to shift our traditions to focus on family and giving rather than getting. Have your children include a list of ‘wants’ for others rather than just for themselves.”

Eat Right

“Consistent, well-balanced meals keep your body running efficiently,” said Britney Bartels, clinical dietitian at Kootenai Health. “Skipping meals or overeating can increase levels of stress. Likewise, stress can lead to over-eating; especially sugary, high-fat foods. Some people have the opposite reaction and eat less. Both reactions decrease your body’s ability to overcome everyday challenges.”

So what should you do? Britney suggests eating a consistent, well-balanced diet with a variety of foods.

Exercise

Most people know exercise increases your overall health and sense of well-being, but did you know it can also reduce stress?

“Exercise helps to bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins,” Gail Garrett-Anderson, physical therapist at Kootenai Health, said. “Exercise is meditation in motion. It helps you forget some of the day’s irritations and tensions and allows you to redirect your focus to your body’s motions. Exercising regularly also helps to carry over stress reduction in your regular daily activities.”

Gail said exercise also helps improve your mood, lower some of the symptoms of mild depression and anxiety, and improve your self-confidence.