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Holiday Break!

holiday stressBy Barbara Hale, MSW, LCSW

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.  It is a time filled with activities and many “to do” lists, leaving us wondering how we will get it all done.  Stress is just part of the season.  Fortunately, there are strategies to help you manage it all, allowing you to pay attention to the joy.  These tactics can improve quality of life and most of them are cancer preventative too!

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.

Give to yourself first.
Your body is a machine that performs best when it has the right kind of fuel, is in action, and gets recharged.  By giving yourself those three critical gifts – good food, body movement and adequate sleep – you will have a great holiday season.

Good food for health and cancer prevention includes complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, lower-fat proteins and many fruits and vegetables.  Most of your plate should be filled with whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and beans.  Have fun with flavoring these healthy foods by experimenting with vinegars, herbs, and spices.  Whenever possible, choose water over a sugary drink and limit your alcohol intake.

Moving your body doesn’t require a gym, just an awareness of opportunities. When you go shopping, park far away from the entrance.  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.

Learn some relaxation techniques for the unavoidable.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, especially during the holiday season.  Having a quick way to manage it can really help.  Working with breathing is simple and can be done anytime, anywhere.  One method is to breath in slowly, counting to four then exhaling slowly, counting to four.  Do it again and image your muscles smoothing out and going slack.  This breathing technique can be done as many times as needed until you’re relaxed.

Want more information? Using your favorite search engine try “sleep hygiene,” “relaxation techniques,” or “healthy eating.”  

Barbara Hale, MSW, LCSW, is the manager of the Social Work Department at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.