How to manage stress during the holidays

  • Published
  • By Earl Rivers
  • 1st Special Operations Medical Operations Squadron
For many Americans, the holiday season is a positive one. These optimistic individuals perceive the holiday season as a festive and joyful occasion to celebrate with family and friends.

At the same time, other individuals do not have a positive outlook of the holiday season. One of these reasons may be that the holiday season is stressful for them.

Stress is the body's natural reaction when normal routines are disrupted, said Maj. (Dr.) Brent Harlan, 1st Special Operations Medical Operations Squadron clinical psychiatrist and mental health chief.

"Stress is good in small amounts, such as when it increases your motivation and endurance to help you achieve a challenging goal," Harlan said. "There's also bad stress, which can result from short- or long-lasting worries about relationships, money, health, job, etc."

When you are feeling stress for too long, whether it's for several hours, days or months, it will set off the body's warning system.

The following are some signs and symptoms of stress:
  • Headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
  • Upset stomach and dry mouth
  • Chest pains and rapid heartbeat
  • Sleep issues and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Increased frequency of colds
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Memory problems or forgetfulness
  • Jitters, irritability, short temper or anxiety
Increased stress during the holidays can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating and excessive alcohol consumption. Fortunately, there are positive ways to effectively manage stress.

"It is very important to optimize your health and resilience on a daily basis, especially during the holiday season," Harlan said. "You can work toward this goal by staying attentive to what your body is telling you."

The American Psychological Association released the following tips to manage holiday stress:
  • Take time for yourself. Go for a long walk, get a massage, listen to music or read a book. All of us need time to recharge our batteries.
  • Volunteer. Helping those who are living in poverty may help you put your own struggles in perspective.
  • Have realistic expectations; no holiday celebration is perfect. View inevitable missteps as opportunities to demonstrate flexibility and resilience. A lopsided tree or a burned brisket won't ruin your holiday; rather, it will create a family memory.
  • Remember what's important. When your holiday expense list is running longer than your monthly budget, scale back. Remind yourself that a great celebration is about loved ones, not store-bought presents, elaborate decorations or gourmet food.
  • Seek support; talk with friends and family members. Getting things out in the open can help you work toward a solution for managing stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consider seeing a physician, mental health professional, military family life consultant, or chaplain.
For more information on effective stress management, contact mental health at (850) 881-4237.