How to Decompress During the Holidays

Expert offers advice on dealing with the stress of the season

TUESDAY, Dec. 23, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- The stress of Christmas can make some people feel about as comfortable as a chestnut roasting on an open fire.

Balancing holiday shopping, socializing and travel with the normal demands of work, school and family can be just too much for some. Even winter weather can cause stress for some people.

Stress is unique to the individual and a situation that stresses one person may not affect another, Fred Newton, a professor and director of counseling services at Kansas State University, says in a prepared statement.

The ability to cope with stress also varies from person to person.

"It's not just your level of activity; it's your attitude about it. Everyone has unique ways to show stress. Some people just veg out -- they get numb," Newton says.

Other people may get anxious or jittery and others moody or irritable. Stress can cause behavioral and cognitive symptoms such as poor attention or concentration, blaming others and poor problem-solving. People feeling stressed may also experience a change in activity level, loss of appetite, increased alcohol consumption or withdrawal.

Other symptoms of stress include fatigue, grinding teeth, headaches and muscle and joint pain. When stress builds, the immune system may be compromised and a person may develop stress-related illnesses.

Newton offers some simple ways to reduce the effects of daily stress:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing. Place one hand on your belly, just below the navel. When you breathe in, your hand should move away from your body. When you exhale, it should move toward the body. Focus your attention on the movement of the hand. You can do this breathing exercise standing, sitting or lying down.
  • The Four S's -- smile, slack, sag and smooth. First, smile and make your eyes sparkle. Then, take a deep breath. As you let out the breath, let your jaw hang slack, shoulder sag, and forehead smooth out. Do this again.
  • Right here, right now. Many people worry about events that never actually happen or things that have already happened. You need to remind yourself that reality consists of one time only -- the present. Repeat to yourself as often as needed through the day: Where am I? Here. What time is it? Now.
  • Release tension. Emphasize the difference between holding tension in your body and letting it go. Try to bend your toes up as if to touch your shins. Hold them there while you tighten your thighs, buttocks and fists. Take a deep breath and hold it while you clench your jaw and close your eyes. Hold all tension for five seconds. Then, let it go all at once -- don't ease off. Feel the tension drain from your body as you exhale.
  • Your relaxation place. Begin with a few relaxation breaths. Then, with your eyes closed, create in your mind's eye an ideal spot to relax -- mountains, beach, prairie or park. It can be a real or imagined place. See yourself comfortably enjoying this location. Once you've created this place, seek it out whenever you need to relax.
  • Warm hands. Visualize your hands as warm and relaxed. For example, you might imagine them in a bucket of warm water, near a fire, or in a warm pair of gloves or mittens.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about coping with stress.

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