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Ruth Folchman: Stress reduction tips for the holidays

The holiday season can be rich with meaning and full of connection with family and loved ones. It can also be a time of considerable stress, with an overwhelming sense of too many demands and not enough time or money to meet them.

Due to economic uncertainties, worries seem to mount as families cut back. Others are concerned about job security, and seniors remain ever-vigilant about their retirement nest eggs.

According to the American Psychological Association, all of these worries can cause increasing levels of stress. In fact, the APA’s 2011 Stress in America survey, 22 percent of Americans report an extreme level of stress.

In addition to stress, many people struggle with depression, feel lonely, and grieve losses at this time of year. And it’s no wonder. The holidays bring forth a dizzying array of demands. As the holiday season progresses, take time to regroup. The Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com) suggests trying to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

• Limit your shopping. The endless stream of holiday advertising can hook us to focus on material things, but ‘things’ don’t buy happiness. Scale back, simplify, and work within a reasonable budget for your financial reality.

Focus on what’s important. Be intentional about how you spend your time; choose wisely what you say “yes” to, and develop your skill in saying “no.”

Plan ahead, and slow down. It’s easy to get caught up in rushing from one thing to the next and feel frazzled. Give yourself plenty of time, and have a clear plan so that you can stay present and focused.

Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, commit to some form of activity/exercise more days than not, and be mindful of eating slowly and with awareness of all the senses: look closely, smell deeply, taste fully, chew slowly.

Let go of judgments. No Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanza or other holiday is perfect. Open your heart and mind to whatever is there, and let go of notions of how things “should” be.

Remember to breathe! Give yourself breaks throughout the day by just stopping and allowing yourself to be still. Notice what’s there right in front of you, breathing slowly and deeply and taking in what you see, smell, hear, and feel against your skin: present moment mindfulness!

Ruth Folchman is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Northampton. The monthly women’s health column is coordinated by Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

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