Taking the Stress Out of Holidays

By Robert G. Graw, Jr., M.D. 

            When Andy Williams sang his holiday classic, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” I doubt he was thinking of jammed parking lots, ornery relatives and tight budgets. What could be the best time of the year is, too often, a pressure cooker of stress that leaves us wishing for the simpler times of yesteryear. 

            Talking with people of all ages over the years, I’ve learned that feeling overwhelmed at the holidays can come from many sources. The potential for higher stress begins just after Thanksgiving, with the onslaught of retail sales, holiday decorating and relatives calling. It doesn’t end until we ring in the new year. Adding to holiday anxiety is that many families live miles apart, preventing them from visiting during holidays or stirring up lingering family feuds.

            Winter also marks the time many people begin a self-imposed hibernation, venturing out only when necessary. A lack of exposure to sunlight can even lead to seasonal affective disorder, a medically recognized type of depression that leaves you feeling moody and without energy. Flu season also overlaps with the holidays. Being sick at this time of year isn’t just a surefire way to feel overwhelmed, it also can be dangerous, especially for elderly people. 

            With all of these challenges, it’s a wonder we get through the holidays each year. The good news is that, with a few small adjustments, you can enjoy a wonderful season full of celebrations with the important people in your life. 

            Start by keeping your festivities simple. Trim the tree and deck the halls with a small group of family and friends. Bring together a few neighbors for a meal, but do it potluck-style to keep preparations to a minimum. Gather the young people in your life and watch a favorite Christmas movie together, or teach them how to bake cookies using passed-down recipes. Do activities in the morning when you are most alert, and save the afternoon and evening for relaxing. 

            Getting outside may not seem appealing, but remaining active is one of the most important ways to keep a healthy body and mind. On a sunny day when there’s no chance of ice, walking is one of the easiest ways to recharge. During harsh weather, walking up and down apartment halls, at a local shopping mall or on a treadmill are good alternatives. Walking with a friend or neighbor will make your outing even more fun and will help keep you both safe. 

            Limit gifts to a small number per child to avoid feeling overwhelmed, and consider giving a useful gift card to parents. Plan to shop early, over just a couple of days, and go on weekday evenings to avoid weekend crowds. 

            Use modern technology to your advantage and set up a webcam on your computer, or pick out a Smartphone for instant video chats. If this sounds foreign, recruit a young person to help. Finally, ask your teenage grandchildren to film and edit family videos and post them on YouTube as a holiday gift. 

            If you’ll be playing host to family members, you might suggest they stay in a nearby hotel. Scout out hotels with senior rates (book in your name) that also have kid-friendly amenities like indoor pools and breakfast buffets. This will allow everyone to have their own space and provide a place to be together for family activities. If your family members have long-standing disagreements, try to bury the hatchet. Rather than focusing on who is right, simply look forward to the future. 

            Volunteering is a fantastic way to feel good and prevent stress. Donating time at a local hospital, helping out at a shelter, or serving as a Salvation Army bell ringer will lift your spirits like nothing else. Take a few hours to sort through coats and gloves you no longer wear and pass them along to a shelter. There is something very special about anonymously buying a gift for an underprivileged child, knowing it will bring joy on Christmas morning. Call your local shelter for more ideas. 

            Above all, take care of your health as a gift to your family. Get flu and pneumonia vaccinations, wash your hands frequently and take time for yourself to enjoy activities that bring you joy. By putting your health and happiness first and enjoying the simple celebrations of the season, the holidays of yesteryear may, indeed, be right around the corner. 

Dr. Graw, a grandfather of four, is a practicing physician and the founder and CEO of Righttime Medical Care. He can be reached at [email protected]


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