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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

The Holidays Don’t Have to be Stressful: ODU Researcher Offers Tips

By Noell Saunders

The holiday season is a joyous time for many but it can also be daunting because of the array of demands that come with it — from planning get-togethers to time management and financial pressure.

It may sound facetious but holiday stress is real. However, there are ways in which we can prepare ourselves and minimize some tension, which can lead to depression, physical illness and substance abuse.

"In scientific terms, the anxiety accelerates the production of cortisol, "the stress hormone," which can trigger high blood pressure, fatigue, headaches, exhaustion, upset stomach, aching muscles, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating and sleep disturbances," said Jason Parker, a senior lecturer in Old Dominion University's Department of Psychology.

Parker said the key is to remember that every person has control of how they act and react.

"Nothing forced is fun. Pace yourself. Decorate later, listen to your normal genre of music and it's OK to save those holiday sweaters for the last minute."

It's important to recognize what is stressful for one person may not be stressful to another and what works for one may not work for another. You have to decide when and how to enjoy the season.

The holiday season doesn't have to be a taxing experience. Here are some stress prevention tips that Parker recommends:

  • Recognize and accept your feelings: You can't force yourself to be happy. It's OK if you don't have the holiday spirit. Participate in activities that bring you joy even if you don't hang holiday stockings over the fireplace.
  • Stick to a budget: The holidays don't have to be expensive. Before you shop for gifts and food, decide how much you can afford. Even a heartfelt card or acknowledgment to those on your list shows they matter to you.
  • Plan ahead: Make a schedule for shopping, cooking, visiting friends and relatives, and other activities. This will help prevent last-minute scrambling.
  • Be realistic: Don't try to be perfect. Just try your best to make the holiday festive and enjoyable for you and your family.
  • Learn to say no: Saying yes when you really want to say no can leave you feeling overwhelmed. "No" is not a bad word, just an answer. If you can't make it to an event or participate in a project, don't feel guilty.
  • Keep up with your healthy habits: Beware of "overindulgence". Consider having a healthy snack before a holiday party so you don't over do it on the party sweets. Remember to get plenty of sleep and don't skip out on your regular exercise routine.
  • Enjoy the season: If you find the season makes you feel lonely or isolated, seek out events. This is also a great time of year to meet new people.

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