This article is provided in the hopes it will help our readers – and particularly those who are caregiver to another — reduce stress during what can be a stressful period: the holidays. So why is “destressing” important at all? Afterall, stress is the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to a trigger that causes key hormones such as adrenaline to be released, and is essential to health when in response to a one-off danger. However, it is chronic stress which causes the adverse effects we seek to address, which results in part from the long-term impact of the hormone cortisol. The good news is that most of us can employ various tactics to reduce chronic stress. Any person feeling overwhelmed or experiencing self-injurious thoughts should of course contact their mental health care provider immediately.
Now, on to practical tips. Begin by focusing on the basics: get enough sleep and regular exercise and eat right. The holidays tend to be a time for over-eating due to the presence of seasonal goodies, both those received and those we make ourselves. Remember skimping at breakfast will only cause us to be ravenous later, likely leading to overeating. Be sure that your fridge is stocked with healthy foods. It also helps to begin a meal or cocktail party by drinking a glass of water, drinking another water or seltzer between cocktails, and drink wine spritzers (equal halves seltzer and wine).
Second, minimize anxiety, which arises from needless worry over unpredictable anticipated future events. One way to mitigate against anxiety is through mindfulness. Mindfulness occurs when we stop and smell the roses by appreciating the here and now, by taking some deep breaths when we encounter holiday chaos swirling around us, or perhaps through meditation. Another way to reduce anxiety is to learn to say “no” thereby keeping schedules and resources within reason.
Finally, forget about being Superwoman (or Superman). Studies show that certain groups are particularly prone to holiday stress. The American Psychological Association’s survey shows women feel more stressed during the holidays than men. Women are more inclined to resort to unhealthy practices as a means to combat stress, such as over-eating, which of course gives only temporary relief.
Another group that can be particularly prone to the long-term effects of chronic stress is caregivers. One trigger is worry about what will happen if the caregiver becomes temporarily sick, has a short-term hospital stay, or suffers a severe medical problem that has long-lasting effects. Who would take care of the person dependent upon the caregiver in these three scenarios? We urge each caregiver to make arrangements to cover each of these three scenarios. Setting a contingency plan in place will give the caregiver some much-needed peace of mind, knowing there is a safety net ready to spring into action. Also, make sure you have prescription copies, contact lists, and written instructions about the daily care of and routines of the dependent person, for the successor caregiver. Contingency-plans made in advance also increases the likelihood that the substitute caregiver will be someone already-known by and familiar with the dependent person. Another worthwhile consideration is to explore area facilities as some will provide temporary respite care.
Even during the best of times, it is also essential that each caregiver not go the course alone, but instead receive help and support from others – to include periodic respite visits. Other tips include ensuring self-care as a priority and to join a caregiver support group, in person or online.
In closing, warm wishes from all of us here at McNeely McGuigan & Esmi LLC for health and peace — especially important during the holiday season. If you wish to read more, several resources are included below.
The National Institutes of Health (NIMH), 5 things you should know about stress: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml
The American Psychological Society, survey on stress: https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/holiday-stress.pdf
Mace, Nancy L., MA, and Peter V. Rabins, MD, MPH, The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss, 6th Ed., 2017 Johns Hopkins University Press.
AARP, 10 Tips for Caregivers During the Holidays, Amy Goyer, November 19, 2018. https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/life-balance/info-2018/holiday-stress-tips.html