“The holiday season can be a challenging time of year”, states David Shern, Ph.D., President and CEO of Mental Health America.
Well, that's a colossal understatement.
For most, 'challenging' doesn't even begin to encompass the stress of the season. The holidays are fraught with stress at every curl of a ribbon, and every fender-bender in holiday traffic.
Stress is the life of the party at awkward holiday gatherings. These events are full of semi-reluctant party-goers pretending they would enjoy nothing more than engaging in small talk while donned in ugly holiday sweaters, and drinking ghastly eggnog.
And then there's the serenade of various renditions of Jingle Bells, playing on a 5-minute repeating cycle seemingly everywhere you go.
For some, this description may seem extreme, with hints of a Grinch-like attitude. But, unfortunately, this describes reality for many people.
Holiday Chaos: Stressors on Steroids
LIfe is stressful to begin with, but research from Mental Health America, a leading advocacy agency for combatting the effects of mental illness and substance abuse, shows how common stressors skyrocket during the holidays. The two most common holiday stressors are Finances and Time Spent with Family:
- Finances: Finances are the most common source of stress, and this amount jumps from 40% to 79% during the holidays.
- Time Spent with Family: Spending time with family is typically reported to be one of the least common sources of stress (17%); however, it jumps to a whopping 57% around the holidays. This is not surprising. No matter how much you love your family, holiday family time can be stressful - holidays are usually the only time congenial family dinner conversations can rapidly degenerate into cross-examinations and closing arguments.
Dr. David Shern goes on to say:
“Being aware of stressors and taking steps towards managing them is essential to making the holiday season healthy. Neglecting them, on the other hand, can abate a person's well-being and overall health.”
But before one can conquer stress, they must first understand its methods of operation. It is, after all, difficult to tame a cobra without some training.
The Stressful Reality of Stress
The human body is designed to either flee from stress, or fight it. Thus, our stress response system is designed to prepare the body to ward off physical attacks, or run for our lives. While having a 'fight or flight' stress response was probably useful when facing Wooly Mammoths and Saber Tooth Tigers, it proves problematic when dealing with stressors of modern life.
Just as humans have evolved, so have the stressors we face. The stress associated with meeting that deadline is different from meeting a prehistoric carnivore. But, although our stressors have changed, the human body is still wired to react as if we are facing immediate, life-threatening danger when we're simply 'stressed out'.
Health Psychology research outlines how stress activates an intricate stress regulation system within our bodies. When under stress, we release chemicals meant to help us overcome the stressor. This is called the inflammatory response, or stated simply - inflammation.
These chemicals are good in small doses, but harmful in high doses. Chronic stress, such as that of the holidays, activates the inflammatory response, resulting in damage to the 'off button' that stops these chemicals from accumulating in the body. The ongoing release and buildup of these chemicals causes diseases such as coronary artery disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Taming the Cobra: Stress Reduction Strategies
How can you reduce stress during the holidays and beyond, such as with your day-to-day project management? As the family festivities, task deadlines, and that infamous exercise-oriented New Year's resolution loom near, reigning in the stress is necessary, not only for your sanity, but also for the sake of your health. Several research-based methods of controlling stress are discussed below:
- Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the ability to maintain moment-to-moment, non-evaluative awareness of your thoughts and sensations, as well as your surroundings. Mindfulness researchindicates that mindfulness can enhance one's ability to cope with every day stressors, and is particularly effective during times of intense stress, such as the holiday season. Mindfulness has been shown to decrease anxiety and combat depression. It has also been found to reduce medical symptoms, pain, and improve overall quality of life.
- Exercise: Health Psychology research also indicates that exercise is a leading method to fight stress and its damaging effects. Merely 30 minutes per day can decrease the harmful physiological effects of stress and combat stress itself by decreasing blood pressure, improving sleep quality, and instilling a sense of well-being.
- Laughter: Psychoneuroimmunology research indicates laughter's ability to fight stress and its harmful physiological effects. One study found that the amount of laughter is directly associated with decreased reports of stress, and increased immune functioning. Between the Crazy Uncle Harry's out there and family pranks, the holidays are a ripe time for laughter - so capitalize on a chuckle as many times as possible.
Additional Stress-Reduction Techniques
Stress experts at the Mayo Clinic confirm that stress can ruin your holidays, and damage your health. The holidays bring about a frenzied rush of demands, all of which can give your stress wings, allowing it to rise to all-time highs. Below are several strategies to combat holiday stress directly from the Mayo Clinic experts:
- Be Realistic: It's crucial to nix perfectionism during the holidays. Does that centerpiece really require and extra trip to a crowded craft store? Don't let perfectionism lead you places where the possibility of a squabble over the last ornament box is looming in the air.
- Stick to a Budget: Don't even think about shopping for one morsel of food or one stocking stuffer before taking some time to plan a budget. Remember, an avalanche of gifts is never a true source of happiness...for anyone.
- Don't Abandon Healthy Habits: Overindulgence is a powerful generator of stress and guilt. Stick to your normal exercise routine, and try eating a healthy snack before holiday parties. This makes it easier to avoid going overboard with the chocolate-covered pretzels and other fattening foods.
- Take a Breather: While making time for yourself is necessarey at all times of year, it's especially important during the holidays. A quick 15-minutes of alone-time can be plenty to balance your mood, restore your gusto, and reduce stress. So, go ahead - hide out in the bathroom for a bit - it's acceptable behavior.
The holidays provide an opportunity to celebrate and spend quality time with friends and loved ones - don't let stress transform the season into a dreaded time of year. Imagine a holiday season marked by fun and relaxation - you can acheive this by learning your stress-triggers, and taking steps to prevent stress.
And as you build up to the holiday season with all those task deadlines, we hope that you'll find ProProfs Project useful to keep your projects under control, and have your stress reduced by using our quick, intuitive, and easy online project management software. So, instead of having a meltdown, we strive to help you find peace and joy this holiday season.
From all of us here at ProProfs Project, Happy Holidays and best wishes for 2013!