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How to Relieve Holiday Stress

Don't let the season overwhelm you — follow these six tips to maintain a healthy perspective

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En español | It's true — the holidays can be stressful. Stress from traveling, spending money, shopping for last-minute gifts, cooking for large groups, and so many other activities can make the holidays hectic. I feel stressed just looking over that list! We need to put more quietness in our lives this season, wouldn't you agree? Here are my suggestions for managing stress and having a merrier — and more relaxing — holiday season:

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Delegate. Like many people, my holidays were stressful because I tried to do everything myself. Now I know my limits, and I'm better at delegating tasks to others. There's no shame in asking somebody to help you prepare meals or clean and decorate the house. Simply say: "I'd like to know if you'd be willing to help me by doing this." We can all regain control over our busy lives by learning how to delegate — the holidays will be far less overwhelming when we do.

Take a breather. One of the quickest and easiest ways to relieve stress is to breathe deeply. When we're under pressure, we tend to take short, shallow breaths. Deep breathing triggers positive changes throughout your body: It slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and eases anxiety. Remember to breathe in and out slowly, letting your stomach expand as you inhale and deflate as you exhale. Your shoulders should naturally rise and fall with each deep breath.

Check your plate. The holidays are a time to enjoy food! Stick to eating natural foods — veggies, fruits, nuts, and lean proteins — as much as possible, and don't go overboard with processed foods. Processed and fake foods include chemicals and preservatives, toxins that are a form of hidden stress for the body.

Make time for stress-relieving exercise. All exercise relieves stress, but two of the best activities are aerobic exercise and mind-body work, such as yoga or Pilates. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to your brain, making you feel more alert and helping you better handle emotional stress. Mind-body exercises promote relaxation; improve your performance and posture; reduce stress; and keep your body feeling youthful and agile. Exercise in general keeps levels of stress hormones in check, particularly cortisol, a hormone that increases with chronic stress and can trigger fatty and sugary food cravings. Stress is always self-defeating, right down to your waistline.

Let go of perfection. I'm sure you'd like everything to go perfectly during the holidays. And there is nothing wrong with wanting to make this a special, memorable time. The key is to strive to do things as well as you can rather than as perfectly as you can. Whenever you notice that you're expecting too much, just tell yourself: "Let go of perfection." You'll feel calm and at peace. 

Enjoy family and friends. Maintaining strong, loving connections with friends and family can add years to your life. A huge body of research shows that when you have strong social contacts — a spouse, a partner, a close-knit family, a group of good friends — you're apt to live longer and have better health. Though maintaining relationships presents challenges, having a good support system enhances your immunity, reduces stress, and combats depression. Good friends are good for your health.

Whenever I find myself getting stressed out during the holidays, I stop and thank my lucky stars for my career and the freedom to do whatever I want both personally and professionally. I know I can still work hard, compete, follow my dreams, reach for the best, and make a positive difference in the world — all without becoming stressed. It's a matter of maintaining balance and perspective.

The original article was published 11-23-2009.

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