Holiday help part 2: Managing stress

Although December doesn’t involve a time warp that makes hours shorter than the rest of the year, it can feel that way. With the flurry of gift buying, meal preparation, party attendance, and event planning, the month can speed by — raising stress levels along the way.

Why does that matter? Because stress can do a major number on your health. Research suggests that even short-term spikes in which you feel overwhelmed can lead to issues like reduced immune response, chronic low back pain, sleep disturbance, migraines, and digestive problems.

Those may not resolve once the new year begins, either. That means reducing stress now can pay off not just in happier holidays but also in better health for the year to come.

Tips for stress-free celebrations

Handling celebrations without a stress flare-up often takes planning and focus, but it’s worth the effort. Here are some tips for making merry without getting frazzled:

  • Be selective. If you’re feeling stressed by the number of celebrations you have to attend, review the list and acknowledge that you may need to be a “maybe” or even say no to some of them. If stress comes from the celebrations you’re planning, consider whether you can scale down by combining events or hosting fewer of them.
  • Consider co-hosting and delegating. Sharing the responsibilities for celebrations can be a significant way to reduce stress. That might mean making dinner into a potluck or getting catered food instead of cooking everything yourself. You could ask several family members to pitch in with errands, cleaning, and organizing. Research shows that people love to feel helpful, which boosts mental health. Allow them to help out, and everyone wins.
  • Plan self-care time on celebration days. Even when you have a million and one things to do for a specific celebration, carving out time for yourself is important as a way to get grounded and be present. Movement can be especially helpful toward that goal. That might mean taking a yoga class, going for a walk, meeting with a personal trainer for a 30-minute session, or just dancing around your house to release some steam.
  • Remember your “why.” Whether you’re attending a celebration or hosting one, it can be easy to get mired in the details and logistics. If you’re feeling behind, take a moment for some deep breaths and remember the reason for a gathering: connecting with others. It’s not the decor or food that’s being celebrated, those are just a garnish. Our connection with each other is at the heart of every get-together. Take a moment to keep coming back to that understanding and recall happy holiday celebration memories as a way to get you back in touch with the purpose of these events.

Although it might not be possible to eliminate stress altogether during the holiday season, especially with lots of celebrations to host or attend, making the conscious decision to peel back to some degree can help ease those feelings of being overwhelmed.

Check in with yourself

In addition to putting strategies like those above into play, do a frequent check-in with how you’re feeling, physically and emotionally. While it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by a seemingly endless to-do list during the holidays, notice when that’s tipping into actual stress. That might manifest as physical issues such as digestive complaints, muscle aches, difficulty sleeping, headaches, catching colds, or being ill more often than usual.

You may also have emotional and psychological effects that are tipping you off that stress is taking its toll. That can include lack of motivation, irritability, difficulty focusing, trouble recalling information — such as forgetting words or names more easily — and feeling anxious or sad. If that’s happening in a way that’s affecting your quality of life, talk with your healthcare provider or a trusted family member or friend about how stress is affecting you. Sometimes, just acknowledging that celebrations and other tasks are making you feel burdened can be enough to lighten that load.

If you’re a member of Mass General Brigham Health Plan, you can explore additional support through our partners at Optum. In addition to behavioral health resources that support stress management, you can search for providers who offer treatments including outpatient services, day programs, residential programs, autism care and support, substance and recovery services, and more.

Access Optum’s providers through the virtual visit platform on Live and Work Well. Browse the articles on Live and Work Well as a guest using the access code MGBHPMA.

Learn more about behavioral health offerings at Mass General Brigham Health Plan.



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