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How to Handle Holiday Stress:
Nine Steps to Bring the “Happy” Back to Your Holidays


The holidays are a warm and joyous time of year that, ironically, can also be incredibly stressful. In 2008, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported that eight out of 10 Americans were predicting a stressful holiday season, while previous surveys have shown about 38 percent of people, and nearly half of women, have increased stress during this time.

Eight out of 10 Americans expect their holiday season to be a stressful one, according to the APA.

As the Washington Post reported, Mental Health America conducted research into the top causes of holiday stress and anxiety, and found the following topped the list:

  • Finances

  • Painful memories

  • Too many activities

  • Overindulgence

  • Being alone

  • Relationships

"Most people do suffer some adverse holiday emotions, because change is inherently stressful," said psychologist Ronald Nathan in the Washington Post, "and during this time, on top of your regular life, chores and expenses, you're taking care of all the holiday preparations . . . not to mention dealing with traffic, crushing crowds, long cashier lines, sold-out toys, tangled strings of broken Christmas lights, dirty houses . . . and sometimes divorced or blended families or other issues."

We would add to their list those individuals with illnesses, and those who have recently lost loved ones.

Money is Causing Extra Holiday Stress This Year

APA’s 2009 Stress in America survey found that seven in 10 Americans (71 percent) report that money is a significant source of stress. This was followed by work, the economy and family responsibilities to round out the top four sources of stress.

Financial stress is a huge burden at any time of year, but when you are faced with buying gifts and other holiday items on top of your regular expenses, the stress can be too much to bear.

“According to our survey three quarters of adults in this country already report moderate to high levels of stress,” says psychologist Katherine Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice. “The holiday season can bring with it additional emotional and financial stressors that can negatively impact both physical and mental health.”

What are the Health Effects of Too Much Stress?

Not only does stress and anxiety interfere with your immune system, making you vulnerable to illnesses like the flu, it impairs your body's ability to respond to its anti-inflammatory signals, putting you at an increased risk of allergies, autoimmune diseases and heart disease.

In other words, chronic stress is known to actually intensify inflammation, according to the APA, which makes you more vulnerable to inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Stress can also trigger diabetes, or worsen it if you already have it, because when your body is stressed it releases stress hormones that automatically release extra sugar into your bloodstream (which is, of course, not a good thing for someone with diabetes who is already struggling with high blood sugar).

You may also not have known that stress can actually accelerate aging. According to a 2006 study presented at the 114th Annual Convention of the APA, people with chronic stress are more likely to suffer from age-related diseases including Alzheimer's disease, major depression, mental decline, osteoporosis and metabolic syndrome.

Stress can even impact your weight. According to the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation, the greater the stress in a woman's life, the greater her weight. This was true even after other factors, like exercise habits, diet and smoking, were accounted for.

9 Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress

“While the holidays are stressful for many people, there are some things we can all do to manage that stress and enjoy the season,” says Dr. Nordal of the APA. “Given the concerns our young people are reporting about stress and money, parents need to be good models for managing stress in healthy ways.”

Nurture Your Mind and Body This Holiday Season With SheaNetics

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This season, follow these essential tips to maintain your sanity, keep stress and anxiety to a minimum and maybe even come away with your fair share of holiday cheer:

  1. Be realistic

The holidays likely won’t be perfect, so don’t expect them to be. Be flexible with your plans and rather than resisting the imperfections that threaten to “spoil” your holiday season, embrace them.

  1. Take care of yourself

Taking time out just for you -- to read, relax, soak in the tub, or just get to sleep early -- will keep you healthy and also give you more energy to accomplish your goals.

  1. Take time to regroup and focus

If you’ve had a particularly stressful day – fighting crowds, dealing with family problems or worrying about finances – take a break and listen to the highly recommended Pure Relaxation: Guided Meditations for Body, Mind & Spirit CD by respected meditation expert Mary Maddux. The guided meditations and music on this CD calm your mind, soothe your emotions and create a state of deep relaxation in your body.

If you’re out and about and don’t have time to for a break just yet, we highly recommend you de-stress with Vermont Organics aromatherapy personal spray misters. Their convenient size allows you to carry them with you in your purse or backpack; pull out the Lemongrass Zen spray when you need an energy lift, the Country Lavender spray for calm and relaxation, or the Peppermint Magic to invigorate your senses.

  1. Leave the Past Behind You

Dwelling on the "good old days" can bring up feelings of loss or wanting for things to be how they used to be. Embrace changes and find a way to enjoy the season as it is now. Starting a new tradition is a good first step.

It's easy to lose site of the real meaning of the holiday season and instead get caught up in the more material aspects. Focus your efforts on family, friends and other values that are important to you personally.

  1. Avoid Overspending

    Going further into debt while you try to “buy” the perfect holiday will only make you even more stressed come January. Instead, try to make homemade gifts, give gifts of time or draw names so you only give a gift to one or two people. Engaging in simple holiday activities is also an inexpensive and great way to enjoy the season. Try driving around to look at holiday decorations, caroling, baking cookies, decorating a gingerbread house, going for a brisk walk in a forest preserve or making a snowman.

  2. Plan Ahead as Much as Possible

    If you do your tasks a little at a time they won’t seem so overwhelming. So plan your schedule in advance to leave plenty of time for grocery shopping, cleaning your house, gift shopping, wrapping presents, and decorating. You can also plan to shop during off-hours when stores are less crowded.

  3. Exercise Regularly

It may be tempting to give up your exercise routine as the holiday season gets hectic, but now is when you may need exercise the most. Aside from strengthening your heart and lungs, two organs that can become physically affected from too much stress, it's great for your mental health too. Exercising increases the levels of endorphins in your body, which stimulate your immune system, reduce stress and put you in a better mood.

Stretching should be integrated with your exercise routine, as it will provide you with increased energy levels and an even greater sense of well-being. There are countless stretches for your body, but it takes just 15 of them to stretch 95 percent of your body, according to stretching expert and creator of the DVD Stretching Toward a Healthier Life, Jacques Gauthier. His Stretching Toward a Healthier Life DVD shows you all 15 of these most effective stretching exercises, and the full program takes just 15 to 20 minutes a day.

We also highly recommend a one-of-a-kind fitness program from, which incorporates the mind-body connection. It’s called SheaNetics from

SheaNetics, founded by fitness expert Shea Vaughn, blends ancient and contemporary movements with eastern philosophy, creating a stylized approach to fitness designed to improve the quality of today's western living. This program not only nourishes your body, it also nourishes your mind – making it an ideal choice to help soothe away your holiday stress.

So we encourage you to check out Shea’s new 6-Disc DVD/CD workout set from This groundbreaking DVD collection contains:

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  • You also receive the SheaNetics Booklet with The Five Living Principles -- a life-changing guide to finding Your Pathway to Well-Being! has nearly sold out and soon this introductory “6-Disc DVD/CD value pack” may no longer be available. They said they plan to break this set up into individual DVDs and CDs, each possibly costing as much as one half this price or more, which could make this total package as much as three times the price or more.

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  1. Be True to Yourself When Dealing With Family Problems

    If you’re having difficulties with a family member, try to avoid the person and do not make an issue of the problem. At the same time, you don’t have to act like everything is fine, either. Try to go about your holiday as best you can -- be polite and respectful to the person, but don’t pretend you’re feeling fine about the disagreement if you really don’t.
  2. Take a Pass on Certain Festivities if You Need To

    Whether you’re going through a loss or divorce, or simply feel too overwhelmed with social calls, remember it’s ok to say “no.” You don’t have to accept every invitation, nor do you have to feel guilty about staying home to cuddle up with a good book in lieu of another Christmas party.

Recommended Reading

Why is so much already SOLD OUT?! Don’t SNOOZE, You’ll LOSE!

What NOT to Do When Shopping for Holiday Gifts: 11 Key Steps


APA Help Center: Stressed About Money This Holiday Season?

APA Help Center: Holiday Stress

The Denver Post November 26, 2009

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