Don’t Get Burned By


Text by Reisha Zang  Illustrations by Miguel Alcocer

With Thanksgiving just three weeks away, holiday 2017 has just begun. Holidays mean “more” for everyone. More family and friends, more food and wine, more shopping and celebrating, more decorating and entertaining – all wonderful, exciting things according to the songs, movies and books of the season. But with that, comes more stress.

When your daily routine includes dropping off the kids at school, caring for your parents, going to work or a combination of all three, it can be unimaginable to layer on the extras it takes to make the holidays special. There is the cooking, shopping, decorating, entertaining and visiting to be done on top of projects for school, household chores and office deadlines.

“Stress comes from the environment, time pressures, noise and weather; it is all around us, year-round,” explains Dr. Sari Roth-Roemer of Arizona Medical Psychology. Illness, age, lack of exercise, poor nutrition and sleep deprivation are all factors that can increase stress. Add the effort of preparing for the holidays and it becomes worse, sometimes unbearable. “How you respond to stress is what matters,” she  says.

Roth-Roemer suggests that focusing on the task at hand can keep you from feeling overwhelmed. “Do one thing at a time, and finish it before moving on to the next,” she says. “Make a list and cross things off before you even think about tackling the next job.” This practical, time-planning strategy can help manage the physical strain that the holiday season places on us.

“The way you look at things really can make quite a bit of difference this time of year,” explains Roth-Roemer. “Your thoughts are very powerful – how you label, interpret and perceive your present experience and what you predict from your future. If you tell yourself, ‘I have a lot to do, but if I plan it correctly, I’ll be able to manage everything,‘ you will be better prepared to handle things,” she says.

Roth-Roemer reminds us: “Keep expectations reasonable. It is easy to set yourself up to fail without meaning to.” Don’t expect to resolve long-standing family conflicts over a holiday meal. Try to overlook differences and accept your family members for who they are – they are probably dealing with their own stress as well. “If you are heading into the holidays missing someone, it is okay to feel sad,” Roth-Roemer explains. “However, if you find yourself getting lost in it, talk to someone or ask for help from friends, family or a doctor.” She suggests spending time with family and friends getting support and sharing happy memories. It might be time to start a new tradition to honor your loved one’s memory or keep an old tradition alive in their honor.

Tradition is really what this season is all about. Think back to holidays when you were growing up.  Is it the Cabbage Patch doll you remember the most or the delicious spice cake your mom only made in December that filled the entire kitchen with an amazing aroma? The roller skates you got as a gift when you were nine or snuggling on the couch watching the “Charlie Brown Special” with your siblings year after year? Spending time together baking cookies, decorating the house for Christmas or watching a favorite movie are all wonderful traditions that can strengthen bonds and make the holidays more memorable. “More” is a good thing when it involves doing things that you enjoy with people you care about.

This effort can also help combat the financial pressures of the season. Somewhere along the way, shopping became a big part of the holidays and a big part of why so many people feel extra pressure. The effects of overspending can cause stress long after the season ends. Holiday parties are fun and are a wonderful way to reconnect with family and friends, but they can become very costly for the host. Here is one simple suggestion to lighten the load: Involve your guests in the party.

Everyone always asks, “What can I bring?” Take them up on their offer; let them bring their favorite dish and be part of creating the party. Sharing some of the effort and expense can help lessen the pressure.

Also, think about different ways to give gifts to your family and friends. Consider putting names in a hat and buying a slightly nicer gift for only one of the group, instead of a gift for each person. It might feel awkward at first, but in addition to the savings, everyone receives an extra present: the gift of time for not having to shop for so many items. For those people who you would like to give something special, instead of the predictable perfume or tie, give an afternoon of babysitting or offer to wash their car as a gift. It feels good to do something for someone else, and who wouldn’t appreciate a break after the hectic holiday season. Gift giving should be a pleasure, not a burden.

Remember, the holidays should be about happiness and sharing good times. Ignoring holiday stress is not the answer. Recognize that it is occurring and take steps to manage it.

“People can’t function as well under stress,” states Dr. Jeffrey Sellers, an interventional pain management specialist with Alliance Pain Care in Mesa. “Stress increases muscle tension, decreases flexibility and slows down metabolism,” he said. A walk is one of the best treatments Dr. Sellers can offer. “Walking is a great stress reliever – it affects the cardiovascular system, muscle toning and burns calories,” says Sellers. If you can, he suggests treating yourself to a massage. It can decrease muscle tension and increase circulation.

Roth-Roemer agrees. “If left unaddressed, stress can lead to chronic illness because it actually causes hormonal, nervous and vascular system changes in the body,” Your body will tell you when your stress level is rising. Stress presents itself in many different forms: depression, anxiety or aches in the stomach, back and head. Roth-Roemer advises paying attention to the signals your body is sending. “Listen to your body and react. Stretching, exercising and pacing yourself are all helpful in reducing stress.”

Some of the most basic behaviors in combating stress seem to be the first behaviors we lose when stress levels rise. Because they seem so simple, we tend to minimize their importance. Getting plenty of rest, exercising and eating right are the first line of defense. Roth-Roemer says “It’s all common sense, but we forget about how helpful a good night’s sleep is. Be certain to take breaks throughout the day and a deep breath whenever you start to feel anxious. You can even imagine that as you inhale, you breathe in calmness, and when you exhale, you breathe out tension.” It is important to pay attention to what you are saying to yourself and make certain that the message is something helpful. Always be positive and make sure to give yourself encouragement.

Another tip involves planning your day. Prioritize the tasks ahead of you, and make certain that the most important thing on your list is the first thing you do. It alleviates some of the pressure  and makes it easier to focus and move on to the next item. Save the less important tasks for the end of the day, the ones that could easily be done tomorrow, or maybe not at all. Ask yourself the question, “If this doesn’t get done, will anyone notice or mind? Is it really that important?” It’s okay to give yourself a break and remember to focus on the true spirit of the season.

Before the holidays overtake you, think about what you really want. Is it more gifts and more parties or more peace and togetherness? Be realistic about how much you can physically accomplish, comfortably afford and emotionally handle. When the pressure builds, acknowledge it and try some of these tips to help lessen it. Don’t let stress take over your holidays.