Contributor: Dr. Staci-Marie Norman, PharmD, DCES
While the holiday season is often filled with excitement, anticipation, and celebration, it can also bring stress, anxiety, loneliness, and gloom. The Holiday Blues.
Holiday stress is a significant factor contributing to the holiday blues. There are parties to host or attend (time over-committed), family gatherings (every family has its issues), financial strains (all those gifts to buy), our holiday expectations (the pressure of perfection), and loneliness (such as a loss or distance from family and friends). These can all affect our physical and emotional health.
Physically, stress can increase our blood glucose, heart rate, and blood pressure, and chronic stress can increase cortisol levels. None of these are good for our body long-term. Some physical symptoms of stress include sleep disturbances and muscle tension which can lead to headaches, backaches, and neck or jaw pain. Abdominal symptoms run the gamut from mild indigestion to diarrhea or constipation. Weight changes, fatigue, heart palpitations, and chest pain are also associated with stress.
Emotionally, stress can manifest as anxiety, moodiness or irritability, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, feeling out of control, overreacting, and depression. These feelings can lead to increased conflicts with family, co-workers, and friends. They can also cause increased isolation and a potential increase in alcohol and substance abuse.
None of this sounds like a great way to spend the holidays, so here are ways to manage the holiday blues and get back to enjoying the season:
- Say NO: The best thing you can do for yourself through the holidays and in everyday life is to learn to be realistic. Look at what you realistically have time for and politely say no to the rest. Learning to do this will free up time to really enjoy what you have committed to doing.
- Don’t Be a Perfectionist: Remember that you are not superhuman! As women, we often want to live up to a perfect picture in our imagination, increasing our pressure on ourselves. Think about what needs to be done vs. what must be done to have a lovely holiday. Being flexible can lower your expectations and your stress level. Stay on track by making a list of what must be done during the holidays. Nothing is more satisfying than checking each item off that list when it is completed.
- Prioritize Healthy Eating: There are many opportunities to blow our healthy eating routine during the holidays. You can enjoy yourself at that party or holiday dinners without over-indulging. Limiting sweets, fat, and alcohol can go a long way to maintaining physical and emotional balance during the holidays.
- Exercise: It is easy to drop our exercise routine during the holidays. While it's important to continue your usual routine, if life gets too hectic, try working in a quick walk around the block. Even a little exercise and fresh air can clear your mind and refresh your spirits.
- Get Your Rest: Sleep is always important to good health, but it is critical when you are under stress! Sleep is when your body recovers from everything you put it through during the day. Aim for eight hours of shut-eye to help make the holidays go smoothly.
- Take Time to Relax: In the hustle and bustle of the season, sometimes it feels like we don't have time to relax, but relaxation is necessary to keep stress levels in check. Even if it is just for a few minutes, sit and enjoy the decorations. Pour a cup of your favorite warm beverage and sip it over a conversation with your family or a close friend. Sing along to some favorite holiday songs. Do something that brings you joy.
Although there can be a lot of stress through this season, there can also be great joy and happiness. I hope you can minimize the stressors and enjoy this wonderful time of year.
Dr. Staci-Marie Norman, PharmD, DCES received her bachelors from Purdue University (’94) and her Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Oklahoma (’96). In 2000 Dr. Norman added to her credentials by becoming a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. She is currently the Clinical Coordinator and staff pharmacist for Martin’s Pharmacy. Dr. Norman is a national faculty member for the American Pharmacist Association, teaching certificate programs in both diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She serves on the advisory board that oversees development and revision of these programs. Along with teaching and development responsibilities for APhA, Dr. Norman serves as a peer reviewer for research grants and publication submission. Dr. Norman has also spoken for Abbott, Bayer, Lilly, Mannkind, and Lifescan as a diabetes specialist.