Ever wonder why so many people get colds or flus in January and February? As the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, there is literally less energy available for life. That's why the trees have dropped their leaves and many animals have started hibernating. With shopping, social gatherings and end-of-year obligations, however, we humans go against nature -- increasing our activity and stress levels at exactly the time that the body wants us to be decreasing them. So here are the top six tips on how to manage holiday stress this season:
1) Practice Self-Care
Be good to yourself! Get enough sleep, eat well (most of the time) and keep your sense of humor. Remember: this season is a time to celebrate. Why wreck yourself in the process?
2) Set Boundaries
The key word here is "no," in any of its more gracious forms, as in, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I have another [fill in the blank] at that time, but thank you so much for asking." Choose the events that you must attend and that you want to attend. Skip the rest. Your body will thank you.
3) Spend Responsibly
Make a realistic budget, determining how much you can spend without jeopardizing your financial state. Stick to that figure! Also, if you hate shopping or the commercialization of holidays, donate to a meaningful cause instead of buying gifts. Send your loved ones cards, letting them know that you've made a donation in their name, and ask them to do the same instead of giving you a gift. Act early so that everyone can manage their expectations accordingly.
4) Flip the Script
Family is a major source of joy and stress, and both are emphasized during the holidays. If you are anxious about family interactions, it's probably for good reason: You know the script that always plays out. So use this knowledge to do some imagery rehearsal of interactions you dread. Artists and athletes visualize their ideal performance ahead of time, which helps them hit the target. Imagery can be similarly effective for managing difficult interactions.
First, visualize handling the interactions exactly as you'd like. Have some fun! Imagine telling off that nosy uncle, obnoxious cousin or smothering mom. Blow off the energy and tension. Next, visualize dealing with family in a way that will reduce your discomfort, without causing irreparable damage. By going into the situation prepared for a new dynamic, you will have a greater chance of manifesting it.
5) Party Smart
Carbohydrates and alcohol lower anxiety and lift mild depressions, but there is always a crash afterwards. Explore new ways to cope and enjoy yourself -- through music, art, writing or other forms of creative expression. It's fine to party hard and "blow out the pipes" occasionally, but repeated blowouts and hangovers in the span of one month will leave you feeling depleted. Pick your party spots judiciously.
6) Eliminate Useless Worry
Use your imagination to effectively plan ahead of time -- from organizing a gathering, to buying gifts, to taking good care of yourself. Do positive visualization before you walk into situations that make you nervous. Use imagery to connect to your intuition and emotional intelligence. Count your blessings, be grateful for what you have, and enjoy yourself.
Follow Martin Rossman, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/worrysolution