5 steps to beating holiday stress

By Dr. Roberta Lee

The holiday season definitely has its advantages: delicious meals, gift exchanges, fun trips and festive parties. But the flip side - a never-ending list of things to do, people to please and not enough time to do it in - can amplify your body's stress response. The result? Neck pain, headaches, indigestion, heightened irritability, repressed immunity and emotional sensitivity, to start. And then there's cardiovascular disease. In 2007, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that psychological stress can increase the risk of a life-threatening condition called heart arrhythmia, which can lead to increased heart attacks. Don't let this happen to you! Here are nine things you can do to take better care of yourself - in addition to everyone else - this holiday season:

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1. Make a realistic to-do list. If your holiday is packed with tasks that only keep growing, prioritize by dividing your list into two categories: those that are essential to your well-being and those that aren't. That should help put things into perspective.

2. Create a calendar. Sometimes, situations feel out of control simply because you're disorganized. This leaves a lot of room for our imagination to make our tasks seem larger and more difficult than necessary. To mitigate those thoughts and feelings, make a giant calendar for the holiday period and break down your tasks into little projects.

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3. Schedule downtime. We often tell ourselves we don't have enough time to refuel, and our overall endurance is whittled away. To avoid such a situation, take a mental vacation. Plan five to ten minutes daily to sit in a quiet area of your home and imagine yourself in a favorite place with no distractions. Make sure to set a pleasant alarm (like a quiet egg timer) so you don't have to keep watching the clock.

4. Exercise. Exercise raises endorphins, the natural "feel good" brain chemicals. It also shuts off the hunger drive. If you can't fit in your usual routine, try walking just a little more each day. Wear a pedometer for the day to count your steps. By the end of the day, you'll find you may have walked the equivalent of 50 to 75% of your usual daily routine - which is a whole lot better than throwing up your hands because you can't find time to exercise!

5. Eat right. Overeating is very common during the holidays. Don't go to a party hungry; eat a little something before you go. Decide what "off-limits" foods you will allow yourself to eat, portion control your meals at the party and focus on foods that naturally have lots of water in them.

To see steps 6-9 click here

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