Preparing for Christmas

Posted on: 10 December 2014 by Lynda Shaw

Dr Lynda Shaw examines why, for some, Christmas is a time of tension dread and has tips to reduce stress levels and enjoy your time with family and friends.

Christmas stress

Many of us are excitedly planning ahead for the festive season – after all, it’s a great opportunity to have quality time with our loved ones, but there are some of us who utterly dread this time of year.  Whether it’s due to the fact that we feel lonely because we don’t have friends and family around, or dislike the commercialism of Christmas, or find it hard to buy presents for our loved ones, these negative feelings can have an acute effect on a our hormonal balance and lead to a raft of health issues including rising blood pressure, a compromised immune system and exhaustion.

The stress hormone cortisol can go into overdrive during the festive season, which spikes sugar levels and suppresses our immune system, so we are more inclined to put on weight or succumb to seasonal colds.  For this reason, it is important to minimise exposure to situations that work us up. Of course, we are inevitably going to have to endure a bit of this at Christmas, so it is crucial that we have some disengagement strategies in place, such as listening to relaxing music, asking for help, or going for a walk that will help to restore a sense of calm.

Problems such as the big day not meeting our expectations, the dinner not being perfectly cooked or presents not being well received, may seem like small problems to have but according to the American Psychological Association (APA), 69% of people are stressed over the holidays due to a lack of time, 69% are stressed due to a lack of money and 51% are stressed by the need to buy gifts.  So how can we help ourselves this Christmas?  In my view the most helpful thing we can do is set and stick to a budget and focus more on just enjoying ourselves with our loved ones and friends.

Our environment can also play a key factor in the way we feel. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that people can experience with the change in seasons. With fewer hours of daylight we get during the winter months means we do not get enough Vitamin D, which can severely disrupt our mood, energy levels and sleep pattern leaving us feeling like zombies. But we can minimise the effects of SAD by ensuring we expose ourselves to the outdoor light on our skin everyday.  By incorporating some outdoor physical activity in your daily routine and eating a diet rich in sources of vitamin D – such as oily fish and eggs will help enormously. You can even use a light box that replicates the effect of sunshine to top you up if you need to.

Christmas can be particularly hard on seniors who may feel vulnerable and isolated during the festive season. According to Age UK, new research reveals that 450,000 people aged 65 and over faced Christmas alone last year and it is especially tough on those facing their first Christmas without a partner. It’s incredibly hard but ask your extended family if you can join them, join a community or club, make time to connect with neighbours and try to build new friendships.

Ultimately Christmas can and should be a joyous time for all – if you are someone who struggles with this time of year, by identifying the triggers, you can begin to take the appropriate action. Let’s hope this Christmas we feel emotionally fulfilled and mentally well-prepared for a lovely and healthy year ahead. If you know someone who may be feeling lonely this Christmas why don’t you give them a shout?

5 Tips on how to reduce your stress this Christmas:


1)      Budgeting

It’s tempting to spend a lot of money on your loved ones at Christmas, but if funds are tight, you need to set yourself a budget and stick to it. Starting the New Year with a hefty debt is something you want to avoid, so shop smart or make presents at home – gifts don’t need to cost the earth to mean something.

2)      Take a breather

Juggling a house full of guests and preparing the Christmas dinner can be very stressful. So have some coping strategies - whether it’s listening to calming music or taking the dog for a walk. Even a few minutes away from the cause of your stresses can give you some perspective.

3)      Shop online

If you dislike shopping and want to avoid wrestling your way through large crowds of people over Christmas, online shopping is the answer. It is great for browsing, inspiring you to new gift ideas as well as delivering items straight to your front door.

4)      Exercise

Make the time to go for a brisk walk every morning. This releases endorphins, your body’s happy hormones into your system which can reduce festive anxiety.

5)      Make time for friends

You know the old saying, ‘trouble shared is trouble halved’? Well there’s something to it - make a point of telling people how you feel to help to deal with any festive worries. In fact ask family members to help. They are not mind-readers, so calmly say what you need them to do.

 

Dr Lynda Shaw

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