Surprising ways to stay merry all season long, courtesy of psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD.
Getty Images It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. Only there you are, battling your way to the cash register among hordes of mall shoppers, staying up until all hours to bake festive treats and listening to relatives bicker at family get-togethers. But are your Grinch feelings normalor do you need to do things differently to better handle the holidays? To assess your level of stress, check off any of the following statements to which you relate.
1. 'Ugh, not another party.'
Do you feel so exhausted that holiday gatherings aren't much fun?
2. 'If I don't make five kinds of holiday cookies, my kids will be disappointed.'
Do you worry that if you don't go all-out, your family and friends will be let down?
3. 'My to-do list is as long as my armoy.'
Feel like the holiday details are burying you?
4. 'This Christmas music is really driving me up a wall.'
Are you finding it difficult to get into the spirit of the season day after day?
5. 'I forgot to pick up stamps, again! Why am I even bothering to mail cards?'
Are you increasingly forgetful or resentful?
6. 'Pleasejust get me to January alive!'
Do you secretly wish it will all be over soon so life can return to normal?
If you ticked off two or more statements, then you've got seasonal overstress. It's not uncommon; numerous studies have found that for many people, the holidays are the most overwhelming part of the year, and women are even more affected than men. (Hardly shocking.) But not only is the tension you feel irksome, it could harm your health. Having high levels of stress for a month or two bathes your brain in cortisol, which can induce depression and even damage brain cells. It also causes fatigue, irritability and weight gain, so don't blame the snowflake cookies. Reality check: Despite the multitude of Pinterest holiday craft and decorations boards, there are no requirements when it comes to celebrating. After all, there are endless ways to enjoy the season without freaking out. Some proven tactics:
Remake a list, don't check it twice
Jot down your top priorities for the month, leaving off anything that is not an absolute must. Be brutal: Do you really have to host more than one holiday meal or go to every single party? Then delegate what you can. Even though more men and women are sharing household responsibilities these days, the holidays have a way of returning everyone to traditional roles. So give your partner a list of his own to-doswhether it's shopping for gifts for the kids or hauling out the holiday decorations.
Be real about family fun
Expecting relatives to be one big happy family can lead to letdown if yours aren't the kind who get along for extended periods. Instead, aim for one big calm family. If relatives are coming, don't leave chunks of unstructured time when they can get on one another's nerves. Organize activities, like a Monopoly championship or a movie screening. You can also suggest that guests relax with a book or take a walk outside. (See you later, grouchy Aunt Lorraine!) If you're visiting family for, say, a holiday brunch, it might help to have an escape plantell them, for example, that you'll stop by but can't stay all day.
Keep up fitness
Most of us ease up on exercising regularly during the holiday season because we're so short on time. But that's a big mistake. Even squeezing in a 15-minute run several times a week or a nightly after-dinner walk will improve your mood and make you feel a lot less stressed-out.
Remember: The thought actually does count
Often our perfectionism drives us to shop, shop, shop for the perfect presentsracking up time and frustration (not to mention credit card bills). The truth is, people want to know that you thought of them and value them; that's the biggest gift. A small or homemade item with a note that says how much the person means to you year-round will end up being a bigger hit than a pricey present.
Focus on what the holidays signify to you
For some, the holidays are about time spent with family; for others, religious observance is key. Own your meaning. Talk to your kids about it. Share the spirit with people you love, and let the trappings be optional. Reflecting for just a few minutes each day on the significance of the holidays and why you appreciate them can help keep you centered. Then again, it's also good to take occasional breaks from the holly-jolly stuff. Whip up something not the least bit festive (barbecue, anyone?). Go to the library. Make some summer plans. Trust me: That Holiday Tablescape board can wait.
Avoid Holiday Body Downers
Stay in good cheer with tips from Melinda Ring, MD, medical director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University.
Upset stomach: Dr. Ring's favorite way to stave off the effects of overindulging: Dilute 1 to 2 teaspoons of unfiltered apple cider vinegarknown to aid digestionin a glass of water and sip before you head to the party buffet.
Back pain: "Musculoskeletal tension in the shoulders and back is common during the holidays, thanks to the extra heel-wearing and package-lugging," Dr. Ring says. Don't carry too much at once; pick up a foam roller to release tight spots; and rock cute medium-high heels if you'll be on your feet all night.
Insomnia: If never-ending to-dos are dancing in your head at bedtime, Dr. Ring suggests having a snack rich in tryptophan and complex carbs. Try a couple of slices of leftover turkey in a small whole-wheat wrap or a slice of cheese with whole-grain crackers.
Heartburn:"Rich treats like buttery cookies and greasy meats can relax your lower esophageal sphincter and cause acid reflux," Dr. Ring says. "Try a marshmallow root or slippery elm supplement beforehand to coat and protect your GI tract." (Check with your doc first if you're pregnant, breast-feeding or taking other meds or supplements.)