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Ten ways you can make the holidays as unstressful as possible

Lighthouse column
By: Angela Ponivas
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For most Americans, the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving and continues through New Year’s Day. The holidays are intended to be a joyous time of year and there is beautiful meaning behind the holidays. It is a spiritual time of the year and many are honoring and celebrating their spiritual beliefs, freedoms and traditions. It is a time to pause and be thankful for all the good in life – our health, our home, our family, our community, our country, our faith and so much more. It is a time to show our love to those who surround us. It is a time of hope for a new year that represents many new opportunities. The holiday season can be a time filled with parties, celebrations and social gatherings. Though the holidays are intended to be joyous, many individuals experience the “holiday blues.” Fatigue, unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, financial constraints and the inability to be with one’s family or friends contribute to the “blues.” The demands of shopping, parties, family get-togethers and house guests all cause feelings of fatigue, tension and stress. Individuals react to stress in different ways. Some may have a positive response, seeing stress as a motivator to take action or make change. Others may feel overwhelmed and drink heavily, abuse drugs, chain smoke or simply withdraw, becoming irritable and difficult to communicate with. Physical symptoms of stress can include headache, stiff neck, backache, sweaty palms or stomach discomfort. It’s very important to not let stress take over your life in this way. Over time, stress can do tremendous damage to your health and your general sense of well-being. When your body is under stress, your cells actually change shape and become unhealthy. In turn, the delicate tissues in our body become more susceptible to free radical damage – the process that causes aging. Sickness and disease “now have an easy way in.” Here are 10 suggestions to deal with stress, particularly during the holiday season: 1. Do think about what is most important, while taking extra good care of yourself during this time of year and spending time with people you enjoy. 2. Connect with people such as a church group or community organization. 3. Exercise daily; this helps stimulate chemicals in your brain that can make you feel better mentally as well as emotionally. 4. Don’t spend money you don’t have or get into debt. It will just add to your stress level during and after the holidays. Stick to a budget; make homemade gifts or goodies to give. 5. Learn to say “no.” By saying “yes” to every offer, you become resentful and overwhelmed. 6. Keep expectations for the holiday season manageable. Set realistic goals for you and for your family. It is important to focus on what is realistically within your control and what is not. Be realistic about what you can do and cannot do. Don’t put your entire focus on one day. Spread out activities over the season. Leave “yester year” in the past and look forward to the future. Don’t compare today with holidays past. 7. Do something for someone else. Volunteer your time to help others. 8. Enjoy activities that are free, such as taking a drive to look at holiday decorations or taking kids to the snow to make a snowman. 9. Be aware that excessive drinking will only increase your feelings of depression. 10. Try something new. Celebrate in a new way. Lastly, seek professional help if you need it. If you find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable, hopeless and unable to face routine chores, know there is help out there. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you will begin to feel better. The Lighthouse is a community resource available to you. We offer classes to help manage stress, anxiety and depression. Have a very happy Thanksgiving! Angela Ponivas is the Lighthouse Counseling & Family Resource Center’s executive director. Her phone is 645-3300 and Web site is lighthousefrc.com.