By Dr. Nina Radcliff
It’s the most wonderful time of the year with the kids jingle-belling and everyone telling you, “Be of good cheer…”
However, despite songs written to tell us “It’s the hap-happiest season of all, With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings, When friends come to call,” stress levels can skyrocket. After all, it may get hectic between “parties for hosting,” holiday shopping, sending greeting cards, decorating our homes to look like a winter wonderland, and other activities. But stress takes a toll on our mind, our body, and our spirit. And it is important to keep it in check so we maximize our enjoyment during the holiday season.
—Perpetual busyness. Our “To Do” list can become very long and reflect perpetual busyness. The act of doing, doing, doing can preclude enjoyment and meaning of what we are doing. Instead, try writing down what needs to be done so we can keep things in perspective when we are faced with the myriad of obligations that arise. Seeing it in black and white helps us rank our priorities—“has to,” “nice to,” “does not need to” be done. Don’t stress if we do not get past what “has to” be done.
And let’s remember to put some time for ourselves each day on the list of “has to.” We will be glad we did as it will help us refuel for each of the items on our list. Make “our time” inspiring and reflective.
Review our lists with a watchful eye to insure we can manage it in a balanced manner.
—Less than perfect is OKAY. It is easy to fall into the trap of wanting everything “perfect.” Let’s become more forgiving and tolerant of ourselves. I have adopted a new strategy: “Always keep several Get Well cards on the mantel. Unexpected guests will think you’ve been sick and haven’t been able to clean.” Let’s focus our energy on enjoying the people in our lives and not sweat the small stuff.
—Move it! Getting our muscles moving, increasing our heart rate, and breaking out a sweat are great antidotes to life’s stresses.
Exercising increases our body’s natural “feel good” chemicals. This has a domino effect by recalibrating our focus, giving new perspective, improving our sleep, and keeping inches off of our waistline. So, although going for a walk or jog is probably the last thing on our mile-long “To Do” list, let’s move it to number one.
—The Sound of Music. Rhythms go back to the womb where babies hear their mother’s heart beating and her lungs breathing. They are both
natural and life-sustaining sounds. In fact, pediatricians often recommend replicating these sounds to soothe a baby or get them to fall sleep. Thus, it is no surprise that listening to and playing music decreases levels of cortisol—a “fight or flight” stress hormone—even in adolescents and adults. Research has also shown that it relaxes our blood vessels and increases blood flow.
—Unplug. Ding, beep, rrrrr-ing. These sounds can put us in a state of frenzy. Studies have shown that they can elevate our “fight or flight” chemicals, thereby increasing our heart rate, breathing, and muscle tension. Additionally, being constantly available to everyone makes us unavailable to ourselves and those immediately around us. At our next holiday function, the last hour before bedtime, or while we eat meals, let’s power down.
—Book into January. We need to be honest with ourselves: it may be impossible to fit everything that we want to do between now and the New Year. But don’t fret. January is a great time to schedule mini-vacations, projects, and get-togethers. By serving as an “overflow” for our busy schedule, it can make our holiday season “manageable” as well as avoid the anti-climatic feeling we may have come January 2nd.
—Sleep. There are only 24 hours in the day. As a result, we oftentimes find ourselves dipping into the much needed sleep hours in order to get things done. But by compromising our ZZZ’s, we are setting ourselves up for being irritable, unable to concentrate, making unhealthy food choices, and avoiding exercising. Let’s keep our 8 hours of sleep sacred.
—Laughter. “Always laugh when you can. It’s cheap medicine,” for stress. Research has shown that a good laugh can relieve physical tension and stress, leaving our muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after! Additionally, laughing can trigger the release of endorphins — our body’s “feel good” chemicals — creating a natural high and even temporarily relieving pain.
It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Let’s not let stress prevent us from stopping to smell the cinnamon; listening to “the kids jingle-belling;” making time to smooch under the mistletoe; having our hearts aglow; and enjoying the loved ones who are near. After all, “It’s the hap-happiest season of all.”
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.