The holidays can be especially stressful and there are short-term tactics that can help you cope, liking taking a time-out for yourself. But it’s even better if you can adopt some long-term strategies that will help relieve stress throughout your life. That means making substantive, permanent changes that can help you reduce and even prevent stress. Not always easy, but worth it.
1) Adopt healthy life habits. You know, in your heart of hearts, that you should exercise. You should get plenty of sleep. Eat a good breakfast and balanced, nutritious meals. You know you should cut out—or at least reduce—your intake of sugar and caffeine that make your energy soar and crash. You know refined sugar, red meat, junk food—all should not cross your lips. To say nothing of alcohol and other drugs. And certainly not cigarettes. Changing bad habits is so much easier said than done. But change one unhealthy habit at a time. And stick to it.
2) Be in the present. Of course this is not possible all the time. You can and should plan for the future. But when planning devolves into obsessing and worrying, then it’s important to have a habit of body awareness. To know you can breathe deeply and practice mindful meditation to calm yourself. To engage in whatever combination of mind and body awareness that works best for you—tai chi, yoga or qigong, for example. To be focused on the here and now to keep yourself free of stress. If you haven’t already, take the time to explore and develop a calming practice you can depend on.
3) Express your stress. The old expression, “get it off your chest,” is a good one. You may do this verbally. Call a friend and vent. Communicate with another person who understands you and is completely trustworthy. Do not hold your anger inside. And if you prefer not to confide in a friend, write it out. Keep a notebook in which you chronicle your stress. Even better, use that notebook to look for patterns of stressful situations in which you find yourself. Note what triggers your stress and learn to avoid those situations in the future.
4) Manage your environment. You can’t control everything. But there are plenty of times in your life when you can say ‘no’ to ease your stress. Think about your limitations and accept them. Don’t overextend yourself—there are probably plenty of things on your ‘to do’ list that don’t really need to be done. But for those tasks that you need to do, allow yourself plenty of time. Plan ahead so you’re not pushed up against a deadline. Learn to delegate and compromise. And avoid people whose very presence stresses you out. Either limit your time with them or think about ending the relationship.
5) Schedule some fun. People sometimes think they can’t enjoy leisure activities until all their work is done. But the truth is, they might never have any fun unless they make a point of putting work aside once and awhile. You must make time to nurture yourself, recharge your batteries and enjoy life. No matter how busy you are—and maybe especially if you are constantly busy—you must look after your own well-being. Seek out relaxing activities. Things that make you laugh. Things that take your mind off the pressing needs of your life. Taking care of your mental health is not a luxury—it’s a necessity.
When you make it a habit to incorporate these strategies into your life, you will have built a solid foundation upon which you can depend to ward off stress. Surely there will be situations that will test you, but you will be strong enough to withstand them. You will have made your life more resilient to stress.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.