How to get better at handling stress during the holiday and beyond

How to get better at handling stress during the holiday and beyond
Christmas decorating can be a major source of frustration during the holiday season. Simple tips can help you cope and even embrace stress. (contributed)

Whether we like it or not, stress is often part of our daily lives. And with the holiday season here, it can be magnified thanks to hosting family gatherings, taking numerous shopping trips and decorating home and office.

But a slight change in the perception of stress can help it work for you, rather than against you.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison study looked at how people perceived stress in their lives. According to the study, having a lot of stress in your life was not linked with premature death. But having a lot of stress and believing it was taking a negative toll on your health increased risk of premature death by 43 percent.

Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal has been a champion of rethinking stress, noting that the right approach can make you smarter and stronger. Her TED Talk has been viewed 14 million times.

“What I learned from these studies, surveys and conversations truly changed the way I think about stress,” McGonigal wrote in her book “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” “The best way to manage stress isn’t to reduce or avoid it, but rather to rethink and even embrace it.”

Knowing your perception could impact its affect on your health, what are some easy tips to shift your focus?

Changing your perception

First it’s important to recognize with stress, the mind and the body are intrinsically linked. You can view stress in one of two ways: as something wreaking havoc on your body (and it can) or as something that is giving you the strength and energy to overcome adversity. Here’s a quick way to think about these two very different views of stress. Read the statements below, and then think about your own reaction to the biological changes that occur during times of stress.

Experts say one way of changing your perspective is to view potential stressors differently. Rather than looking at decorating as stressful, see it as family bonding time. (contributed)

When I’m stressed, my body releases adrenaline and cortisol. My heart is beating faster. This means that:

  • Common View: Stress is increasing my risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
  • Alternative View: My heart is working harder and my body is mobilizing its energy to get ready for this challenge.

When I’m stressed, my stress response is causing my breathing rate to increase. This means that:

  • Common View: My fast breathing is a sign of anxiety. I worry about how stress is affecting my mental and physical health.
  • Alternative View: I should take a deep breath. My faster breathing means more oxygen is getting to my brain so I can think more clearly.

When I’m stressed, my heart and circulatory system respond, causing my blood pressure to rise. This means that:

  • Common View: I can feel my blood pressure rising. This can’t be good for my health.
  • Alternative View: Circulatory changes are allowing more oxygen and nutrients to fuel my muscles. I’m feeling stronger and ready for the challenge ahead.

Here are some other tips to help you manage or reduce stress:

  • Participate in physical activity.
  • Get more sleep.
  • Keep a diary.
  • Manage your time.
  • Talk to someone.
  • Learn to say no.
  • Try relaxation techniques.

McGonigal says that by understanding, embracing and even using life’s stressful moments, you can not only learn from it but you can get better at managing it. It’s a critical skill, she says, because stress is unavoidable.

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