Managing holiday stress for your health’s sake

Stress has become so prevalent in countless lives that the American Psychological Association classifies it as a public health concern, and it can take many forms: depression, anxiety, and exhaustion to list a few.

Often spiking during the holiday season, everyday stressors can be borne out of work pressures, deadlines, financial struggles, among many others. And the effects sufferers feel can lead to very real symptoms — and the body reacts: heart rate increases, blood vessels narrow.

Over time, these little instances can add up and do damage to your health.

And while the stress one experiences cannot always be limited, he or she can control their response to it and lower any harmful, potentially dangerous effects.

Chronic stress is a significant risk factor for:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Poor sleep
  • Breathing complications
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Weaken immune system

Sufferers have also been known to keep poor compliance with their self-care.

Just like the automatic “fight or flight” response that kicks in when scared — muscles tense, heart rate increases, and the brain becomes more alert — bodies also have built-in, healthy relaxation responses. When that is triggered, the opposite occurs: breathing and heart rate slow down, and blood pressure decreases.

Fortunately, with practice, sufferers can learn to trigger that healthy response. Trying these techniques on one’s own or finding a teacher or class to help get started is the first step.

Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t catch on quickly. And if one approach doesn’t work, try something new — there are multiple ways to de-stress.


One of the most studied approaches for managing stress, this involves developing your ability to stay focused on the present, instead of worrying about the past or future. Find a quiet location with as few distractions as possible. Get comfortable by either sitting, lying or walking. Focus your attention on a specific word or set of words, an object or your breathing. And let distractions, including thoughts, come and go without judgment.

Progressive muscle relaxation

To feel the effect, first tense your muscles for a few seconds, then relax them. Start by tensing and relaxing your toes, then your calves and on up to your face. Do one muscle group at a time.

Deep breathing

Take in a slow, deep breath, let your stomach or chest expand and then exhale slowly. Repeat a few times. Many people don’t breathe deeply, but it is relaxing and something you can do anytime, anywhere.

Guided imagery

This involves a series of steps that include relaxing and visualizing the details of a calm, peaceful setting, such as a garden. Getting your mind and body to a place of calm doesn’t always mean being still, however. Other healthy ways to manage stress include taking a yoga or tai chi class, talking to a professional counselor, joining a stress management program or an art class, or meeting up with friends for a brisk walk. Being in nature can be very soothing for some people.

Combining de-stressors like these with other positive lifestyle changes can go a long way toward better health.