The holidays are upon us! What will you do to maintain your health amidst the many added stresses of the season?

It’s a time for celebration but it’s also a very sad and difficult one for some of us–especially those whose lives aren’t filled with the love and joy we hope for. Some of us have lost loved ones this year or are continuing to feel the void of a beloved who died years ago. Depression, anxiety and other psychological symptoms often increase in December. Add to that the weight of financial pressures, navigation of family challenges and all the food and treats that suddenly appears everywhere you turn, and you’ve got a recipe for all kinds of mental and physical health problems.

What does stress look like?

Most often we hear “stress” used in a negative connotation: “I’m so stressed out getting ready for hosting Thanksgiving at my house. I don’t know if I can get it all done.” While ideally hosting a celebration is a joyful opportunity, here it’s been turned into a problem. It’s become a burden rather than the blessing we’d hope it to be.

Stress comes in many different packages. Even desired life events like marriage, a new job, entry or graduation from college or the birth of a baby, add significant stress to our lives.

How stress impacts our health depends on how we perceive it and how we respond to it.

How do you perceive holiday stress?

Martin Seligman, a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, says that our explanatory style is the critical factor as to whether stress takes us down or becomes an opportunity for personal and relational growth. His ideas are especially helpful when considering the “desired” stressors of the holidays. Pessimists respond to stress from a stance of helplessness (“How am I ever going to get it all done?”). Optimists respond from a stance of power, choice and capability (“I am excited about hosting! I am going to work diligently and enjoy all the details of preparing a beautiful day to celebrate with family and friends.”)

Those who thrive under pressure maintain three views that minimize the impact of stress: a commitment to staying engaging (reducing isolation and passivity which lead to depression), taking appropriate control of whatever part of the situation can be altered and influenced (reducing helplessness) and seeing stress as a challenge – that even difficulties provide an opportunity for personal and relational growth. These are the realists—those who see the negative aspects, acknowledge them and choose the focus on the good (“I really dislike family dinners and am anxious about it. And, I’m going to access support and trust myself to make good choices.)

How do you respond to stress?

How we cope with stress factors heavily on its impacts upon health. The holiday season abounds with opportunities to fall into unhealthy coping patterns–especially drinking too much, bingeing, and neglecting stress-reducing commitments to exercise and spiritual practices. Of course smoking or other compulsive substance use or activities are also likely to increase under stress.

Along with behavioral signs, increases in anger, crying, depression, negativity, physical tension, headaches, insomnia, digestive problems–all may indicate you need to increase your support for coping with holiday stress.

Positive Coping Ideas

Be proactive. Develop a plan for coping with potential holiday stress. Consider experimenting with a few new stress management techniques as part of your plan. Possibilities include everything from taking a ten-minute walk to setting boundaries about how many events you will attend, working with your dietitian on what you will eat at family gatherings, attending a yoga class, and seeking support.

If you are in need of more support this holiday season, please reach out! Call Reasons at 800-235-5570 ext 290 or you can reach out to the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 800-931-2237.

About the Author:

Cissy Brady-Rogers is a psychotherapist and nationally recognized eating disorders specialist. She is a woman with years of experience discovering the wisdom and power of her own body and knows that loving and enjoying your body can be challenging. She also knows that is it possible! She began offering retreats, workshops, and groups in 2007 out of her discovery that community support is the key to healing women’s shame-based relationships with their bodies. She then founded Alive and Well Women as a way to enable her to bring the healing power of compassionate community to more women through expanded programming and training other professionals in the Alive and Well way.

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