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Staying Stress-Free During the Holidays

Perhaps we should all reevaluate the true meaning of this time of the year and reintegrate a little fun into the holidays! Follow my seven simple steps to relieve stress and regain inner tranquility during your holiday season.
11/30/2015 12:36pm ET | Updated November 30, 2016
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The holidays are a time for tradition and family, giving thanks and grand meals. But for many of us, these ideal notions are eclipsed by the absolute frenzy that accompanies the holiday season: extra traffic, endless shopping, and unwelcome guests at the dinner table. Indeed, this season can conjure some very stressful scenarios: How will I afford to buy everyone gifts on such a tight budget? I can't stand my mother-in-law, how am I supposed to get along with her this year? How can I enjoy the holidays going through this divorce? Some of us dread the added stress of the holidays so much that we choose to spend this special time of the year alone rather than with our loved ones. We don't have to struggle through this or any other season or ignore gatherings that can become treasured memories.

Take my advice to stay positive, balanced, and stress-free this holiday season:

Don't binge. It's perfectly fine to indulge a little during the festivities. In fact, it's impossible not to give in when you're surrounded by deliciousness! But a little does mean a little. Have one piece of pie, not three. There is no reason to do damage to yourself by downright feasting; that people binge on food during the holidays is an excuse to eat excessively, but it's not a reason for you to do so. Apart from it being unhealthy for your body, you'll feel guilty afterwards. Prepare for your hearty holiday dinners to come by eating healthy meals the week prior, not the week after. Limit also your alcohol intake. It might seem like a good idea to stifle your seesawing emotions by drinking the whole bottle of wine. But alcohol will only intensify already-existing emotions and will lead to a crash in energy once its affects wear off. Worse, extra alcohol may also lead to that argument that's been brewing between you and another person. By eating and drinking in moderation, you can remain in control of your emotions and feel more comfortable with your surroundings.

Be realistic. If you're on a tight budget but still have lots of gifts to buy, understand that you won't be able to accommodate everyone. Better yet, get creative and create your own gifts for your loved ones, such as a homemade card or a hand-crafted item. If you're supposed to be in ten different places in one day, accept the fact that you'll only make it to one or two events. Don't put yourself in difficult positions by promising too much just because you feel an overwhelming need to please. Trust me, if they love you they'll understand!

Don't give in to pressure. If someone is asking you for too much, politely tell them you won't be able to do so. Be nice but firm with those who try to take advantage of you during this time. If a particularly rude relative is constantly making bad remarks or dumb jokes about you, stand up for yourself and end their commentary. You can say something like, "I know you'll respect my decision not to speak about this right now." Don't let the extra pressure affect you. Affirm to yourself: "I'll do as much as I can, and that's good enough. I love myself and won't bring unnecessary stress to myself."

It's okay to be blue. The holidays come complete with feelings of nostalgia and melancholy. Your mind wanders to prior years when perhaps you felt more fulfilled or stable. These emotions are normal and typically fade on their own once you bounce back into your daily routine. Distract yourself if you find hurtful memories of "Christmas past" resurfacing. What's most important, however, is to be able to differentiate the holiday blues from symptoms of depression. Clinical depression is more severe than just feeling sad; holiday gloom springs up right around that time of the year, while depression lasts year-round and can be powerful enough to affect your everyday life. Know the difference and if you believe you're suffering from clinical depression, seek a professional who can help. Because the one thing we each deserve is joy, each day of the year.

Have mercy on yourself. You're only one person, so stop thinking you can conquer your entire holiday to-do list in one day. You should aim to please yourself first this holiday season! This may be a time for giving to others, but don't forget to gift yourself with plenty of self-love, too. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, take a breather: sit down and enjoy a hot beverage, clear your mind of anything holiday-related, and focus instead on setting up positive New Year's Resolutions that will empower you in the year to come.

Make amends. There is no better time of the year to forgive and forget. As much as you might not want to, you have to forgive every person who has hurt you whether their damage was major or minor. You hurt no one but yourself by keep grudges against others; resentment is a cage that keeps you from reaching your potential. Whether it's an immediate family member or a long lost friend, reach out this holiday season both to ask for their forgiveness and say you forgive them wholeheartedly. It doesn't have to be a novel or the speech of your life; a quick and simple call or email will suffice.

Diffuse tension. Replace tension with something productive instead of engaging in or exacerbating it. If the conversation around the dinner table is becoming too intense, don't be afraid to speak up and put an end to it. Or, if you feel this is something you can't do, simply walk away from the discussion and make yourself busy in the kitchen or take a quick walk outside. Playing with the children or pets in the family is also a great way to escape the madness temporarily.

Perhaps we should all reevaluate the true meaning of this time of the year and reintegrate a little fun into the holidays! Follow my seven simple steps to relieve stress and regain inner tranquility during your holiday season.

With Holiday Cheer,

Dr. Carmen Harra

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