The holiday season is here, and it is a busy and exciting time. Filled with family and friends it is a time to reconnect and strengthen our relationships. With all of the activity, the commitments and the “to do” lists, there can be stress. Barbara Hale, MSW, LCSW, manager of the Social Work Department at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey tells us there are numerous strategies to help you manage the stress of the season, which lets you focus on the joy.
Q: The holidays can be so overwhelming. Where do we start?
A: Start by taking stock of what the holiday season means to you. Think what you have enjoyed over the years. What memories make you smile or even laugh out loud? What warms your heart? As you look back, pay attention to the words “should” and “ought to.” If those crept into your mind, the activity is less something you care about and more what you think others want you to care about. Imagine letting go of those activities or at least engaging in them in a different way this year. Prioritizing or altering what you do can improve the whole experience.
Q: What are some physical things we can do?
A: Give to yourself first. Your body is a machine that performs best when it has the right kind of fuel, is used the way it is built for and gets recharged. By giving yourself those three critical gifts – good food, body movement and adequate sleep – you will have a great holiday season. Interestingly, all of these tactics result in an improved quality of life and most of them are cancer preventative too!
Good food for cancer prevention means eating complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, lower fat proteins and many fruits and vegetables. Most of your plate should be filled with whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans. Choose water over a sugary drink and limit your alcohol intake.
You may think that the phrase “use your body” is code for “exercise” but it doesn’t have to be. Just a few changes can make a difference. When you go shopping, park on the other side of the mall in a spot that is further away. Take the stairs over the elevator or escalator. Leave the grocery cart at the door and carry the bags to the car. Just pay attention and you will find ways to easily add more movement to your day.
Adequate sleep is critical to recharge all the parts of your body. It starts with a decision. Look at when you need to wake up and count backwards 7 to 9 hours. That is your bedtime! Plan your evening to be ready for sleep at the designated time. It helps to have a 15 minute routine you follow beforehand, something in lower light that is minimally engaging, since it cues your body for sleep.
Q: What is an immediate fix for stress relief?
A: Learn some relaxation techniques for the unavoidable. No matter how much you plan or what you prepare for stress is unavoidable, especially during the holiday season. Having a quick way to combat it can really help. Working with breathing is simple and can be done anytime, anywhere. One method is a sigh, a very deep and purposeful sigh. Just breathe in deeply then exhale fully. Then do it again while imaging your muscles smoothing out. A “purposeful sigh” can be done as many times as you need to until relaxed.
Want more information? Using your favorite search engine try “sleep hygiene,” “relaxation techniques,” or “healthy eating.”