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Thanksgiving 2011 Is History, Seasonal Stress Is Looming Ahead

Dr. Paula presents a holiday survival guide to help you reduce stress, enjoy the season and return to daily life after the holidays.

Many of us mark the passage of time by the holidays.  Labor Day, Columbus Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving…they seem to arrive earlier each year. Now that the Thanksgiving benchmark is behind us, it’s time to prepare for the holiday stress ahead. Does it really have to be that way? Or can we arm ourselves with some strategies for reducing the stress and stressing the reason behind the season? Here’s a holiday survival guide that will help you not only survive, but thrive despite the stressors that may seem insurmountable.

Stress is simply a fact of nature —forces from the inside or outside world affecting the individual. It impacts all of us. We each respond to stress in ways that affect ourselves as well as our environment. Because of the overabundance of stress in our modern lives, we usually think of stress as a negative experience, but from a biological point of view, stress can be a neutral, negative, or positive experience.

So let’s consider two kinds of stress: eustress and distress. Naturally, most of us think of stress as a bad thing. However, eustress is the good stress that is brought on by the fun of watching a horror movie, the excitement of achieving a goal, the exhilaration of riding a roller coaster or the joy of a wedding. Eustress buoys us up and helps us enjoy the emotion of the moment. We want eustress in our lives. It brings a level of positive energy and curative stress to our lives that is healthful and gives us a feeling of contentment.

Distress, on the other hand, takes nervous energy to a new level. It creates anxiety, frustration, angst and fretfulness that allow no peace or assurance. Distress it the bad type of stress and occurs when we have excessive demands placed upon us that we have difficulty adapting to or dealing with. Distress can be damaging mentally, intellectually, emotionally and physically. Avoiding distress and turning it into eustress is difficult, but possible.

A baker’s dozen would be overload, a dozen would cause more stress, so here are three tips for not only surviving, but thriving during the upcoming holiday season:

Work, but relax

No doubt about it, holidays create work for everyone. There’s cooking, shopping, entertaining and doing it all with aplomb. The work is inevitable, but it can be managed through planning ahead. Say farewell to physical stress.

Stop: Spend some time sitting still and making a plan for shopping. Make a list, check it twice. Bundle your errands and go brave the crowds once or at least as few times as possible.

Look: Check out ways that you can save time and energy. Cyber Monday may be the right time to get some of that shopping completed.

Listen: Quiet yourself long enough to hear your own thoughts. Reduce your expectations. Sometimes lowering your standards in terms of the perfect meal, the perfect gift or the perfect décor can really free you to relax instead of increasing your workload.

Remember, but Forget

Holidays sometimes bring out the best and the worst in people. Perhaps old resentments, past disagreements and family squabbles resurface. Naturally, it’s human to remember those hurtful grievances. However, it’s a burden off your shoulders if you can forget. Say so-long to emotional distress.

Acknowledge your feelings: It’s easy to remember those past hurts. It’s hard to forget them. If you acknowledge them and consider that they may have been unintentional or reactive, it might be easier to forget them.

Breathe: Take some deep breaths. Counting to 10 is really an effective way to gather your thoughts, get control of your feelings and relax your body.

Control your own behavior: It’s hard enough to change ourselves, let alone others.  You teach people how to treat you. Take the high road and put on the best face you can.

Spend, but Save

Spending money is a given during this season, but spending time and energy on behalf of others is a greater gift. Surprise yourself by spending less money and giving more of your time, talent and energy to family and friends. Say goodbye to financial distress.

Spend money: Of course the holidays require some expenditure. You’ll have to spend some money, but the trick is to keep within your budget. The best time to develop a budget is before you start your shopping list; before you go to the mall and before you make promises you’ll be sorry you kept. Frugality is the key to post-season financial peace.

Spend time: Lots of people—family and friends included—would be grateful for the time you spend with them. Most are looking for material gifts. Sharing pleasant memories and family photos is a gift. Stopping the madness and sitting still over a pot of coffee and some cookies is a gift.  A telephone call or a handwritten letter is often treasured by recipients. Give others the gift of your time.

Spend energy: Do something for someone else—rake their leaves, cook a meal, bake a cake, transport them to the grocery or take out the garbage. Lots of folks would consider those gifts greater than any purchased item because it is truly a gift of yourself.

So you can survive, but more importantly, you can thrive during the busy season ahead. Just say after me, the 10 most powerful two-letter words in the English language: If it is to be, it is up to me. Yes, you can!

"Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.” ~ Author Unknown

Wondering if it’s just you?  Take a stress test and find out: http://stress.about.com/od/selfknowledgeselftests/SelfKnowledge_SelfTests_Personality_Tests.htm

The American Institute on Stress offers lots of ideas about eustress and stress: http://www.stress.org/topic-definition-stress.htm

Select and sign up for an electronic newsletter that will drop stress management ideas right into your inbox: http://stress.about.com/od/lowstresslifestyle/a/stressreduction.htm

How do YOU handle the stress of the holidays?

Dr. Paula would like to hear YOUR suggestions for handling the mental, physical, emotional and intellectual stress of the family gatherings, frenetic activity and fast-paced excitement that lies ahead. Post your comments to benefit our readers.

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