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Healthy Living: Relieving stress during the holiday season

As we approach the official start of the holiday season, visions of holiday festivities come to mind. This is the most wonderful time of the year, after all. Or is it? According to a report released by the American Psychological Association, 62 percent of Americans report experiencing holiday stress. Fifty-two percent of us report being more irritable at this time of year, and 68 percent of us say we are more fatigued.

While family gatherings and packed schedules account for some of the stress, the number one stressor for most Americans is money. According to the Association, 62 percent of Americans report fretting about personal finances during this season. This comes as no surprise during a time when iPads and XBoxes have replaced yo-yos and board games on holiday wish lists.

Whether your stress is related to money, family or the season in general, what’s important is how you manage it.

Managing holiday stress

∎ Calm down. If you’ve never tried meditation, now might be a good time to think about it. David Marks, who directs the Mindfulness Meditation classes at the Hampshire Regional YMCA, recommends taking a few moments out of each day to be “in the present.” This includes taking the time to slow down, taking deep breaths, and simply relaxing. And, while visions of shopping lists and school plays might

be hard to push aside, Marks says that taking a quick 1 to 5 minutes out of our busy days to simply slow down is well worth the effort.

∎ Get moving. Perhaps one of the best ways to overcome stress during the holidays is to exercise regularly. Research shows that physical activity not only boosts your fitness and energy levels, but can also elevate your moods. In addition, exercise has been found to reduce anger, tension, fatigue and confusion. If the colder temperatures are keeping you indoors, consider joining a facility like the YMCA.

∎ Eat right. During a time when holiday cookies and hors d’oeuvres surround us, this might sound like an impossible task. But, research has shown that healthy eating plays a crucial role in dealing with stress. Carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals are all important for energy, mental concentration and emotional stability.

∎ Give. Whether it is purchasing a gift for a child in need or volunteering your time at a local food pantry, new studies attest to the benefits of giving. In fact, the National Institutes of Health found that when people give or donate their time to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Who doesn’t want that?

∎ Get help. If you find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to maintain regular tasks, even after trying stress reduction techniques, it is important you get help. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional, particularly if these symptoms persist.

Don’t forget the kids

Although holiday time means presents and no school for most kids, Jonathan Schwab, M.D., Pediatrician and Hampshire Regional YMCA Board Member, reminds us that it can also be a stressful time for them. According to Schwab, this is particularly true for families facing financial challenges, in separated or blended families, and in families where a loved one has recently passed away. Some suggestions from Schwab: continuing traditions even when one family member is not present, planning events well ahead of time, talking to your children about what to expect, and not trying to overcome the loss of an absent family member with an over-abundance of gifts.

Also, if your family is dealing with a loss, Schwab recommends that you consult with your child’s physician and consider receiving help through a support group like The Garden, A Center for Grieving Children and Teens offered through the Hampshire Regional YMCA. More information on The Garden can be found at www.hrymca.org.

Lindsay Doak is a member of the Hampshire Regional YMCA Board of Directors.

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