Who said, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year?” Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, the holidays are stressful.

When we experience stress, our bodies react by setting off our “fight-or-flight” mechanism. The fight-or-flight response is a physiological reaction that served to alert us to danger in caveman days.

When we perceive an attack, our body’s alarm system goes off. Adrenaline is pumped through our body and prepares us to either fight off the attack or flee from it. When activated, our blood pressure increases and rushes to our muscles, awareness intensifies, eyesight sharpens, pupils dilate, impulses quicken. We are physically and mentally preparing to meet the perceived threat. Once that threat is over our bodies relax and go back to a state of calm.

In this day and age, we still have this mechanism but the “threats” – rush hour, a deadline on a project, a fight with our spouse, being overworked – don’t necessarily stop. Many people end up in a chronic fight-or-flight state. The accumulation of stress hormones ends up causing physiological damage to our bodies in the form of illnesses like high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, and depression, to name just a few.

Having taught Stress Management courses years ago, I learned two types of stress exist: Distress and Eustress. We all know what Distress is, but Eustress was something new to me.

Eustress is the kind of stress we experience around the “good” events that happen in our lives: buying a new house, getting married, having a baby, celebrating holidays.

Positive changes in our lives create stress, just like negative ones. The difference is: When we experience Distress, it’s likely we will remain in a stressed state. With Eustress, we go through the positive event and then return to a state of equilibrium.

Whatever type of stress you experience, but especially with Distress, it is vital for your mental, emotional and physical health to have an awareness of how stress affects you and take action to decrease it.

I’d like to share some quick and practical steps you can take to make this holiday season as stress-free as possible.

Here are 5 quick tips to keep your cool during the holidays.

1) Become more mindful about how stress is showing up for you.

All of us are so busy, especially at this time of year, we don’t stop to pause, to breathe, to take note of the state of our bodies and minds.

Creating more awareness of our specific sources of stress allows us to make changes, even if they are small. It’s easy to get caught up focusing on all the things we can’t control and sink into victimhood.

Take a moment during the day and before you go to bed to think about your level of stress. Ask yourself where the stress is coming from – not enough sleep, too much to do, feeling disconnected from your partner.

Then ask yourself what you can do to decrease these stressors. For example, plan to go to bed earlier, ask yourself what tasks you can delegate or postpone, do connecting things with your partner. Little changes can make a big difference.

2) Do 10-15 minutes of stress management each day.

It could be doing a meditation or guided imagery; listening to soothing music; deep breathing; progressive muscle relaxation; or aromatherapy. Even 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference. You can find these techniques online or in apps. The two apps we love are Calm and Insight Timer. Check them out.

3) Focus on what you can control.

Consciously think about the areas where you do have control and how can you decrease your stress. Examples would be:

  • Order gifts online instead of going to the stores.
  • Buy groceries online and have them delivered.
  • Don’t cook everything from scratch.
  • Ask others to bring a dish if you are hosting dinner.
  • Say no when others ask you to do something extra.

4) Turn off your devices.

The constant noise we live with from devices is like never before. We rarely experience quiet anymore. The pinging of messages or emails that come in, the “bad” news that is constantly playing on TV 24/7, the gadgets we have all around us keep us stressed and put us in a continual fight-or-flight mode. Ask your family to do the same, especially at meal time.

5) Lower your expectations.

Life isn’t perfect. Anticipate that something will go wrong. Picture what stresses you out the most. Ask yourself, “And what if that did happen; then what…?” Keep playing out that line of thought until you determine the worst-case scenario. It’s not usually as bad as you think. For instance:

  • “What if our dog ate the turkey?”
  • “I wouldn’t have any food to serve my guests.”
  • “And then what…?”
  • “I’d order in Chinese food or pizza and it would be a Thanksgiving we’d never forget.”

Bonus Tip: Connect with your partner every day.

At times of stress we may get so focused on what needs to get done that we ignore our relationships. Be mindful of your partner and take a few minutes each day to check-in with each other. Share how you are feeling. Ask your partner to “just sit and listen.” Venting can be very helpful. It makes you feel you are not alone or isolated with your stressors.

  • Give your partner a 10-second hug every morning and every night. (10 seconds is longer than you think.) You will feel more connected and more relaxed.

We wish you a wonderful, low stress holiday season. More tips coming next week. Stay tuned…

We’d love to hear your thoughts about how to make the holidays more enjoyable (and less stressful) on our Facebook page.

Your relationship deserves the highest level of support. Relationship Experts, Bob and Lori Hollander are committed to helping individuals and couples build connection and deepen bonds in a world that often makes it difficult.

Call them at 410-363-2825 or email them today, info@relationshipswork.com.

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