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How to Minimize Stress and Master the Holidays

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

It goes without saying that the holidays are a busy time. In addition to typical daily life, there’s partying, traveling, spending, socializing, and the list goes on. Many would say the chaos of it all is worth it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to minimize the stress and relax. Whether it means reducing or increasing one’s social interactions, there are ways to feel fulfilled rather than drained by the time New Year’s comes around.

Firstly, what exactly are your sources of holiday stress? One source may be simpler than you’d think: doing too much. Yes, it’s obvious, but let me explain. Naturally, when met with a rather exciting or interesting activity, we often opt to participate in it. While doing good and fun things are, well, good and fun, having too many good things going on can lead to stress and a lack of time to decompress.

Another stressor may be the overwhelming obligations and the temptation to overindulge, such as excessive eating, drinking, and spending. Too much of any of these things could lead to debt, weight gain, or embarrassing memories.

Furthermore, balancing alone time with together time becomes significantly more difficult for many during the holidays. Family time is a wonderful thing, but being around others for too long without proper rest takes some of the enjoyment out of being with loved ones.

On the other side are those who are not with family during the holidays. While many are getting together with those they love, some might become more aware of their loneliness and feel left out.

During this time of year, symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may occur. While it can come on subtly with the season’s transition from fall to winter, more time spent indoors because of colder weather brings out this form of depression, invoking seemingly sudden bursts of unhappiness and/or stress.

Despite these concerns, there are still ways to be on top of one’s mental health during this time of year. Here are some useful tricks for mastering the holidays, stress-free:

Keep a Journal

Keep a journal, or at least write things down, an age-old trick to maintain healthy stress levels. Keeping track of finances, plans, and obligations is a surefire way to stop stress dead in its tracks.

Remain Disciplined

Remaining disciplined is key to mastering holiday overindulgence. Remind yourself not to have eggnog and cookies with every meal. This saves us from guilty feelings later on. There is nothing wrong with saying “no” to tentative plans or an extra drink. Staying fit and leaving space for alone time is worth it in the long run.

Balance is Key

Being burnt out halfway through December sucks, even if it means sacrificing potential plans with friends and family. They can wait for another day. No one is fun to be around when they are tired or stressed. Besides, spending a day during the holidays to curl up with a warm blanket and a book is a fun idea in itself.


References

Scott, Elizabeth. “How to Manage the Inevitable Holiday Season Stress.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 24 June 2019, www.verywellmind.com/understanding-and-managing-holiday-stress-3145230.

“6 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress.” Healthline, Healthline, www.healthline.com/health/holiday-stress#tips.

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Cultivating Gratitude To Improve Well-Being

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(Photo Credit: Natalie Board)

By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

Even though many of us believe we are grateful for what we have in our lives, we may not always use gratitude in our everyday life. Gratitude is defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” We may believe that we feel this way but can forget to stop and reflect on what we are grateful for as part of our daily routine. There are many mental health benefits associated with reflecting on gratitude. Including a gratitude exercise in your daily routine can not only improve your mood but can also influence your general well-being.

There are several ways one can cultivate gratitude. In one study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, older adults participated in a gratitude intervention to improve their well-being and non-clinical depression. Each adult was asked to write down three good things that they are grateful for in their life, every day for 15 days. As a result of this intervention, the adults showed significant improvement in happiness and well-being by the end of the intervention. This positive improvement continued to the 30 days follow-up. There was also a decrease in stress while participants were actively involved in the research study. This gratitude exercise has not only been shown to be an effective treatment, but it is also inexpensive for participants to join in this exercise. All you would need to participate in this exercise is a journal, either on your computer or in written form, and write down what you are grateful for each day.

In another study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, researchers used a gratitude contemplation intervention to improve mental health of individuals. When a person completed a 4-week gratitude contemplation exercise, they reported higher rates of self-esteem and satisfaction with their lives. It was also shown to consistently cultivate gratitude in a person’s everyday life. The positive effects of the treatment intervention were maintained over the course of the study. This study showed that daily participation in a gratitude exercise improved one’s well-being, in addition to various components of one’s mental health.

Another method you can use is to reflect on what you are grateful for at the end of each day. You can do this in bed before falling asleep or in a meditation, any method you find useful to contemplate the positive qualities of your life. I know from personal experience that it can sometimes be difficult to find things that you are grateful for when you have multiple stressful events thrown at you or you are dealing with chronic illness or pain. By making this exercise part of your daily routine, just as you would with brushing your teeth, you can temporarily shift your attention to what is going right in your life and receive all the mental health benefits that come along with it.


References

Gratitude (n.d.) In Google online. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?q=define+gratitude&oq=define+gratitu&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j69i57j0l4.3638j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Killen, A. & Macaskill, A. (August 2015). Using a gratitude intervention to enhance well-being in older adults. [Abstract] Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(4), 947-964. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-014-9542-3

Rash, J. A., Matsuba, M. K. & Prkachin, K. M. (27 October 2011). Gratitude and well-being: who benefits the most from a gratitude intervention? [Abstract] Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01058.x

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