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ODU Researcher Offers Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

By Noell Saunders

The holidays are a time for celebrations, parties and family get-togethers. But for some, lack of money, lack of time and the hype and commercialism of the season cause increased stress.

Or, as Jason Parker, a senior lecturer in Old Dominion University's Department of Psychology, put it, "nothing forced is fun."

In scientific terms, the anxiety accelerates the production of cortisol, "the stress hormone," which can trigger high blood pressure, fatigue, headaches, exhaustion, upset stomach, aching muscles, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating and sleep disturbances.

But December doesn't have to result in elevated levels of cortisol. Here are some stress prevention tips that Parker recommends:

  • Recognize and accept your feelings: You can't force yourself to be happy. It's OK if you don't have the holiday spirit. Participate in activities that bring you joy even if you don't hang holiday stockings over the fireplace.

  • Stick to a budget: The holidays don't have to be expensive. Before you shop for gifts and food, decide how much you can afford. Even a heartfelt card or acknowledgment to those on your list shows they matter to you.

  • Plan ahead: Make a schedule for shopping, cooking, visiting friends and relatives, and other activities. This will help prevent last-minute scrambling.

  • Be realistic: Don't try to be perfect. Just try your best to make the holiday festive and enjoyable for you and your family.

  • Learn to say no: Saying yes when you really want to say no can leave you feeling overwhelmed. "No" is not a bad word, just an answer. If you can't make it to an event or participate in a project, don't feel guilty.

Recognize that what is stressful for one person may not be stressful to another and what works for one may not work for another. You have to decide when and how to enjoy the season.

"Remember that you are always in control. You are in control of how you act and how you react. Pace yourself," Parker said. "Decorate later, listen to your normal genre of music and it's OK to save those holiday sweaters for the last minute."

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