PITTSBURGH, December 13, 2007 The holidays are a time of busy activity and excitement, but for many, the merriment also can lead to an increased amount of stress, according to Bruce Rabin, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Healthy Lifestyle Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).
With the holidays also comes more things that interfere with your routine including the additional shopping, cooking, cleaning and social gatherings, that can cause an added amount of stress, said Dr. Rabin. In addition, people worry more about finances, eat more than usual and get less sleep, all of which can contribute to holiday stress. If not dealt with properly, this can result in anxiety and depression, the exact opposite of what the season is about.
According to Dr. Rabin, holiday stress is best handled by effectively dealing with each situation. He offers the following tips to reduce the influence of holiday stress on health:
Recognize that changes in routines are temporary and although they may be inconvenient, things will get back to normal.
Increase the amount of walking you do. It will make you feel better when you are down in the dumps.
Do your best not to overspend on gift purchases.
Understand that it is okay not to do everything that you think you need to do.
Be aware of your eating habits and try not to overindulge.
Maintain normal sleep habits.
Dr. Rabin also recommends three techniques to reduce the amount of stress you perceive to be present during the holidays:
Practice deep breathing to reduce the concentration of stress hormones in the blood to promote rapid calming and the ability to think more clearly. The technique is called abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing.
Place your right hand on your abdomen, right at the navel and put your left hand on your chest, right in the center, and close your eyes.
Take a deeper inhalation than usual and focus on the rising of your abdomen as the lungs fill with air and your diaphragm flattens down, causing your belly to rise. You should feel your stomach rising about an inch as you breathe in and falling about an inch as you breathe out.
Most of the movement should be in your lower hand; the other hand on your chest moves only slightly.
The trick to shifting from chest to abdominal breathing is to make one or two full exhalations, pause, then inhale slowly.
Nostril breathing is generally recommended, but if you are more comfortable breathing through your mouth, do so.
You should not take more than five deep breaths. If you feel a little dizzy, take fewer deep breaths.
Find something to laugh about. When you are stressed, it is difficult to think of something funny, so have something ready. To do this, find some calm time and think of some things that make you laugh and store them away in your mind. Then, when something is upsetting you or causing you stress, recall that image in your mind and lighten the mood by laughing to yourself.
Try a brief, relaxing chant. The chant can be a religious phrase or just a few words such as, I am a good person, or All will be well, or I will be well. After deciding on the words you will use, chant the phrase quietly to yourself at first. Then do it without making any sound, and practice feeling calm, relaxed and comfortable while doing so. Do this for several days, quietly saying the chant while in a relaxed state. Then, when experiencing acute stress, say the chant silently to relax and focus.
For more information on the Healthy Lifestyle Program, visit the Web site at http://healthylifestyle.upmc.com or call 1-800-533-UPMC.