Doctor-recommended ways to reduce holiday stress

During the holidays, there are often more demands on your time and energy – no matter your family or your faith traditions. There are special events, loved ones to visit, busy stores and roads, weather delays, and more.

With so much going on, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

A first step you can take toward a calmer December is to just say no, says Dr. Michelle Dow, a rural family doctor from Meteghan Centre, Nova Scotia. For the past two years, she’s served as a counsellor to other physicians in the Doctors Nova Scotia Professional Support Program.

“It’s better to do a little less, enjoy what you are doing at the time, be present and not be thinking about your next event all the time. Don’t feel guilty about saying no – it’s often quite liberating.”

Instead of spreading yourself too thin, you’re more apt to spread a little more joy.  “It frees you up to make meaningful memories with your loved ones,” Dr. Dow adds.

While gatherings with family can be joyful, they can also result in tension for a number of reasons: undefined or changing roles, political differences, old hurts or simply the discomfort of having routines disrupted.

“It’s always good to sit down, have an honest conversation about the real issues that may have surfaced and try to come to an understanding,” says Dr. Dow. “Sometimes, this will bring people together or they may just agree to disagree and then move on.”

For those caring for children, it’s important to remember the value of self-care, too. It’s easier to handle their upsets when you’ve tended to your own well-being.

Despite the message that this is a joyful season, depression, anxiety and other mental-health challenges don’t take a holiday. Some people may experience seasonal blues.

Many of the ingredients for good mental health still apply during the holidays: exercise, getting outside, good sleep, plenty of water, and using moderation when it comes to food and drink.

Dr. Dow also suggests volunteering. “Even if you are feeling low, helping someone can be very beneficial,” she says. “This could be as simple as clearing an elderly person’s sidewalk, walking someone’s dog or baking cookies for a shelter.”

For those living with alcohol addiction or supporting someone who does, it’s important to have a plan to get through the holidays to avoid the risk of relapses.

“Make sure there are non-alcoholic beverages available in the home,” Dr. Dow says.  Have water and food ready for your guests – not just alcohol. Remind guests before a gathering not to pressure someone to take an alcoholic drink, and be tolerant and understanding if a friend or family member does not attend a function where alcohol will be served.

By recognizing potential sources of holiday-related stress and acknowledging your own feelings in advance, you can plan healthy ways to handle it. You’ll also be ready to appreciate the moments of kindness, peace and joy that make this season special.

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