Don’t let stress crash your holiday party: 5 warning signs and 7 helpful tips

The holidays are upon us and many of us are rushing about trying to put it all together before December 25. Fully half of us might say we are stressed to the max and can’t wait for the holidays to be over. Think back: is this the same pattern you have followed year after year — after year?

Why does this happen?

We see in commercials and in cards that this is the season to be jolly. Many of us remember the thrill of being children at Christmas time and all of the joy and excitement of waiting for Santa to arrive. We visualize past Christmases as if they were Norman Rockwell paintings: families gathered in front of the warm, inviting fire, the aroma of baking cookies, brightly coloured packages, hanging stockings and singing Christmas carols, drinking hot chocolate and feeling loved and safe and protected. “Peace on Earth and Good will to all” are the wishes we send out with great resolve. For many, Christmas seems to signify the time in our lives we “should” feel our best, love our neighbours and help those less fortunate and count the many blessings we have been given. It “should” also be a time to feel good and happy and content. We are told it is the “happiest time of the year.”

Why do so many people notexperience these feelings? In reality, many of us have not experienced this kind of holiday in the past, so why would we expect it today? The holidays are hectic and full of unrealistic expectations. Add seasonal events to an already busy schedule, escalate the needs of family, fold in some guests, and you now have great potential for being the victim of stress.

What are the symptoms? Simply put, stress indicates that we are off balance. Doctors and psychologists call it dis-equilibrium. When all our biological systems are in balance and we are functioning well, eating healthy foods, and sleeping a good eight hours a night, we experience little stress. We know instinctively when we are well. Stress builds up over time, not overnight. Our bodies try to let us know stress is there, and we need to pay attention.

Watch out for these five top signs of stress:

  1. Lack of good quality of sleep; not feeling refreshed on waking
  2. Urge to binge on carbohydrates (chips, breads, sweets and other empty calories), also high caloric fatty foods
  3. Feeling rushed, nervous and irritable
  4. Getting easily upset by little things
  5. Feeling little or no support from loved ones and associates

Too much stress over time results in health problems. Men, women and even children can and do develop stress-related disorders that carry symptoms including stomach and other digestive distress, headaches, anxiety and depression. Stress is not a joking matter.

Take time today to check your stress level. When you feel it building up, use these seven simple measures to fend off stress:

1. take a time-out

Take time for yourself and remember things you used to enjoy doing.

2. get moving

Continue to exercise regularly in your favourite fashion. Three times a week practice some type of exercise that gets your heart pumping.

3. support

Maintain a healthy support system and know we all need help at some time in our life. It really is more fun when we work with others.

4. saying ‘no’

Learn to say NO to some requests. Practice with small requests and when you are approached in the future you will be prepared. “No” is a word in our vocabulary for a reason.

5. put yourself first

Realize when your needs are not being met and take action to fill them. It is OK to ask for what you want or need.

6. ask if you need help

Learn to ask for help and accept it when it is offered. Feeling guilty serves no purpose for you and asking for help does not indicate some flaw in your personality.

7. put yourself first

Most of all be kind and gentle with yourself. If you cannot be considerate and accepting of yourself who else will?

If you are feeling over-pressured, don’t hold it in. Talk with the people around you about how you want this holiday season to feel, and express any concerns you have. Let family and friends share in the joy of the holidays by sharing in the planning and preparation, too. You do NOT have to do it all by yourself.

Remember, the way you choose to react to this holiday season is up to you. Don’t let stress be an uninvited guest at your house this year.

About the Author: Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and founder of, has worked with women in a strategic, problem-solving fashion for more than 25 years. She is the author of the self-help book, ” Timeless Women Speak ” She is passionate about educating and offering women a place to share the experience of growing older in a positive and rewarding atmosphere. During more than 10 years of research she has asked more than 1,200 women of all ages the hard questions about growing older in a youth-driven society. Women find comfort knowing that they are not the only ones who worry about getting older and who wonder if their value as a person will be compromised.

Dr. Nancy interviews an interesting woman author each week for a podcast on her website. She was nominated for Missouri’s First Lady Award in 2008 and recognized as one of Springfield, Missouri’s Most Influential Women of 2007. She speaks frequently on women and aging, biofeedback, depression, migraine, mental health, constructive confrontation, workplace violence, and stress management. She gives radio and TV interviews, has published professional articles, and has presented her research at a national conference of the American Psychological Association.

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