Hello All, Here's an article excerpt from a healthcare newsletter I receive that has good advice for all of us this holiday season. Take care and have a great Thanksgiving. Deb
What actually works to relieve stress?
The upcoming holiday season also brings the highest retail sales of the year in the U.S. It's a safe bet that for 2021 the most popular holiday purchases this year will be for self-care or "anti-stress" items.
But do those products marketed as self-care actually bring stress relief?
Here are what scientific studies and clinical evidence have found to actually lower stress and anxiety for most people. Effective self-care<https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2021/01/feeling-stressed> includes:
* Getting regular physical activity (anything that you enjoy);
* Eating a balanced healthy diet, avoiding too much alcohol, sugars / carbohydrates, and fats;
* Getting enough sleep on a regular schedule;
* Social contacts with people you care about; and
* Setting healthy boundaries for yourself (including taking time for yourself).
Research indicates these specific mind-body practices<https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/mind-and-body-approaches-for-stress-science> can make significant impact on stress levels for many people:
* Mindful movement like yoga, t'ai chi, qi gong, or even simple stretching or walking;
* Meditation and mindfulness practices<https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-in-depth>, especially the technique of open monitoring meditation<https://www.sciencedaily.com/rel.../2019/11/191111124637.htm> or the combination of both meditation and movement into mindfulness-based stress reduction<https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/3-simple-strategies-to-help-you-focus-and-de-stress/art-20390057>; prayer and other spiritual practices, too.
* Controlled breathing<https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324417> and deep breathing<https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/decrease-stress-by-using-your-breath/art-20267197> exercises;
* Cultivating self-compassion, gratitude practices, and re-orienting internal dialogue<https://www.sciencedaily.com/rel.../2021/10/211001100429.htm>; and
* Physical self-relaxation<https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/relaxation-techniques-what-you-need-to-know>.
Other proven-helpful activities are:
* Spending some time outdoors<https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/07/17/536676954/forest-bathing-a-retreat-to-nature-can-boost-immunity-and-mood>;
* Laughing<https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456> long and often (even laughter yoga!)
* Creative activities - making or listening to music<https://askthescientists.com/music-stress-mood/>, looking at art (museum therapy<https://www.artnews.com/art-in-america/features/art-therapy-healing-museum-1234604543/> exists!), crafting or making, even coloring designs<https://health.clevelandclinic.org/3-reasons-adult-coloring-can-actually-relax-brain/>.
So, if that special body cream with essential oils brings you joy, by all means use it - but also check out some of these activities that relieve stress reactions, lower anxiety, relax over-stressed bodies, and cultivate resilience.
Handling family-related stress
Holiday celebrations themselves can bring peak stress<https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544>. In a 2016 survey by the American Psychological Association, nearly 40% of the people responding said their stress goes up in this season. A study done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shows that 64% of people with mental illness actually report that holidays make their conditions worse<https://namica.org/blog/handling-stress-during-the-holiday-season/>.
This season is frequently associated with increased family time or large gatherings with relatives. While pleasant on paper, trying to have an ideal family holiday can actually be a heavy source of stress (and create rocky family relationships). Mary Foston-English, a counselor at the Stanford Faculty Staff Help Center, notes that expectations may be elevated during the holiday season due to specific sets of assumptions, rituals, and standards<https://bewell.stanford.edu/surviving-the-family-holiday/>. For instance, the belief that "everything has to be perfect" can place stress on an entire family and create tension between family members when things do not go as planned.
Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of NAMI, reminds us that we do indeed have a choice<https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/home-for-the-holdays-stress-tips> during the holiday season. We do not necessarily have to run through countless family traditions and events that may ultimately be exhausting. He suggested that simply drawing up a pro and con list of various holiday traditions can highlight what is truly worth doing, and force the question: "Why am I doing things that make me miserable?"
In this global pandemic, we all need to consider infection risk as part of those pros and cons, too. If a particular activity holds a lot of happy meaning, but might be too risky for some members of your family or social circle, brainstorm to find creative ways to modify it while still keeping the most enjoyable aspects.
Some suggestions and tips for managing stressful family situations during the holidays include:
* Identify difficult or inflammatory subjects to avoid discussing with relatives
* Establish and set healthy boundaries for yourself around family - Don't be afraid to say "no"
* Pace yourself by setting limits and planning ahead; don't overdo the holiday festivities and itinerary
* Set some alone time aside for yourself to do activities you enjoy and recharge
The holiday season can be tense and filled with pressure. Family relationships are complex and filled with layers. It may not always be possible to have a "perfect", stress-free season, but there are still so many opportunities for joy. Remember that it is possible to take some control over the holidays instead of letting them control you, and that you are not entirely at the mercy of family traditions. Changing your outlook<https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/4-mindful-tips-to-destress-this-holiday-season> and planning ahead can help beat holiday stress, and give you a peace of mind.
Deborah A. Clark, MLIS
Library Management Specialist
Maine State Library
E-mail: [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
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