Planning ahead key to beating holiday stress

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Ellington - posted Fri., Nov. 8, 2013
Dr. Gayethri Narayansamy spoke about avoiding holiday stress, at the Ellington Senior Center on Nov. 7. Photo by Steve Smith.
Dr. Gayethri Narayansamy spoke about avoiding holiday stress, at the Ellington Senior Center on Nov. 7. Photo by Steve Smith.

With the holidays rapidly approaching, so is holiday stress. Dr. Gayethri Narayansamy (a.k.a. Dr. Swamy) offered several tips for preventing and coping with stress, and making the holidays more enjoyable, as she spoke at the Ellington Senior Center on Nov. 7.

The doctor said that while some stress can be good, as a way of motivating people to get things done, there is also bad stress that can be detrimental to one’s health, both mentally or physically. Ailments including infections, aches and pains, high blood pressure and colds can all be exacerbated by stress. Also, studies have shown that stress-related heart attacks happen at an increased rate during the months of December, January and February.

Holiday stressors include getting one’s gift-shopping done. Narayanswamy suggests beating the rush by going shopping first thing in the morning, when stores are first open, and fewer people are out.

“Everything will be calmer,” she said. “You won’t get caught up in the afternoon rush, or the evening rush. Lines won’t be as long. When the shopping centers are crowded, you get more exhausted, and that will cause you to lose energy, get dehydrated and feel more anxious.”

If a store is out of a certain gift, don’t worry about it, she said. Simply remain calm and return to the store on another day, or shop at a different store. It’s also important to not over-shop or overspend. Having a plan and a budget and sticking to them is important, so resist impulse buys, especially gifts that are more expensive than you had planned.

“Make sure you have a budget limit,” she said. “Plan what you are going to buy for whom.”

Missing loved ones, especially those who have passed, can be especially stressful during the holidays. Older people can often find themselves alone and/or missing spouses and others who have passed away. Don’t sit around and dwell on the past, Narayanswamy said, suggesting being more active and taking part in social events.

“Getting out will cheer you up, and help you be able to cope with those past memories,” she said. “Be proactive. Find some people like yourself and do something active. Get together with other people. Volunteering is one of the best things you can do, like at a hospital or a shelter. You can find someone and talk to them - someone who also knows what it feels like to be left alone. That can be the best thing for you, and you both feel better.”

Overindulgence can also trigger more stress. While some believe that alcohol or other drugs take away stress, they actually add to it. “There’s nothing wrong with enjoying alcohol,” she said, adding that moderation is the key. “You want to have one or two drinks to have fun at the holidays, not get drunk and pass out.”

The same moderation goes for food. “Food is everywhere at the holiday season,” Narayanswamy said. Again, the solution is to pre-set limits. “Set a limit before you sit at the table,” she said. “Try everything on the table, but take just one tablespoon of each thing. Also, eat slowly. If you are eating in a hurry, or if you are eating and talking and not paying attention, your brain doesn’t have enough time to judge how much you are eating. Slower eating will help you control your appetite.”

Managing one’s schedule is also important, including making time for rest and relaxation. Making lists and prioritizing will help, as long as relaxation is one of those priorities. While everyone wants to help family and friends with their holiday shopping and projects, etc., helpfulness can’t be at the expense of one’s own stress levels.

“Learn to say ‘no,’” Narayanswamy said. “Know your limits, and tell them, ‘No, I can’t do it.’ There’s nothing wrong with telling them ‘no,’ if it’s because you’re taking care of yourself.”

If prevention methods fail and anxiety is coming on, deep breaths help, as does exercise, soothing music and guided imagery.

Taking care of oneself is especially important (as always) during the holidays.  Narayanswamy recommends getting enough sleep, visit the doctor as necessary and take medications regularly. Also, don’t procrastinate.

“Don’t tell yourself, ‘I can do it later, then later, then later,’” Narayanswamy said, “because later and later becomes Christmas Day.”

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