By Dragan Radovanovic, Lydia Ramsey and Jessica Orwig.
Stress is an unavoidable aspect of life. From overwhelming public gatherings to project deadlines, it’s easy to get caught up in it all and let the stress overcome you.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. To help you cope, here are 15 science-backed tips to keep your stress level down this holiday season.
Make a game plan.
Staying organized will keep you from doing all of your holiday-related shopping at the last minute and give you more time to spend with your loved ones instead of scrambling for everything at the last minute.
Not only will having a to-do list reduce stress, it will help you stay more focused, according to Cal Newport, a computer-science professor and author of the book “Deep Work,” which comes out in January.
Without such a list, said Newport, incomplete work can eat away at your concentration. This stems from something called the Zeigarnik Effect, which is the tendency to remember incomplete tasks.
Take deep breaths.
Sometimes, the holidays can be so jam-packed it’s hard to remember to even breathe. But taking a second to step away from the kitchen or the crowd and breathe in deep may help your body handle stress a little better. The idea is to get your breath slower to activate the body’s relaxation mode, with lower blood pressure and an overall better feeling.
Scale it down.
While there is a lot of pressure to get the holidays just right, setting realistic expectations can help manage stress. Anumber of studies have pointed to lofty expectations as a reason for higher stress levels. Instead of stretching yourself too thin by taking on too many fancy holiday dishes, stick with manageable tasks and spend the rest of the time enjoying the company of friends and family.
Know the signs of stress.
There are so many stressors in any given day that it can be hard to realize when you’re getting stressed before it’s too late. Here are a few of the physical signs to watch out for, according to the American Psychological Association:
-Change in appetite
Make a budget.
Money is considered the most stressful factor for Americans, even more so than work or family, according to a recent poll from the American Psychological Association. To keep yourself from stressing out even more, be realistic about your holiday budget and don’t go overboard. Setting up parameters will keep you from having the stress of spending too much hanging over you all season long.
Eat — and drink — wisely.
The holidays might be filled with delicious treats and foods you only get to enjoy once a year, but your diet does impact your stress levels. Eating balanced amounts of whole grains, lean meats, fresh fruits and veggies can help you manage your stress levels much better than a diet high in processed and sugar-filled foods.
And if you’re incredibly stressed, turning to the spiked eggnog might not be the best course of action. According to the CDC, alcohol can actually add to your stress.
Remember to laugh.
Hanging out with family and good friends can often bring up memories, the good and the bad. Taking a minute to enjoy those good memories and let out some laughter can be a great way to cope with the stress of the season. In a study of the effects of laughter, yoga, and reading on college student’s stress level, researchers from Seton Hall University found that these activities significantly decreased the amount of stress students had.
Chat up a friend.
Talking with a friend about what is stressing you out is a great way to alleviate some of the pressure you might feel this season, according to Carnegie Mellon University psychology professor Sheldon Cohen.
“Friends help you face adverse events. They provide material aid, emotional support, and information that helps you deal with the stressors,” Cohen told the online health site WebMD.
Moreover, according to a 2014 American Psychological Association survey, 43% of Americans who said they have no one to turn to for emotional support also generally reported that their stress had increased in the past year.
Turn up the tunes.
One way to lower blood pressure after a stressful situation is to turn on the tunes. Numerous studies have found that listening to soothing sounds like nature soundtracks or classical music like Beethoven, Mozart, or Verdi can lower blood pressure. Not all music is created equal, though.
One study, presented earlier this year at a conference of the British Cardiovascular Society, found that fast-paced music like most pop or upbeat hip-hop either does not affect heart rate or can actually increase it.
Go for a trot.
Any cardiovascular exercise stimulates the release of feel-good hormones in our brain called endorphins, which can help us feel happier and less stressed. This includes everything from a Turkey trot before the big meal or an after-meal walk, which might be the best thing following a long day of relatives plus a relatively large dinner.
Get enough sleep.
A good night’s sleep is crucial for staying focused and healthy, but it could also help you manage stress levels, according to a small 2012 study. Researchers asked 53 healthy adults to complete a series of high-stress cognitive tests after controlling how much sleep they received the previous night.
The group who were sleep-deprived reported greater stress, anxiety, and anger than the control group. This led the researchers to conclude that sleep deprivation lowers our tolerance for stress and makes us more prone to it throughout the day.
Better yet, take that post-holiday meal snooze.
There is likely nothing better than a nap after a big meal. And it’s a good way to cut back on stress. In a study in which participants took a nap after a sleepless night, researchers found that the people had decreased levels of cortisol, a hormone connected to stress.
Confront the situation head-on.
For anyone trying to manage their stress, one of the key pieces of advice is to try and resolve a stressful situation at the time it happens. If you ignore or poorly manage everyday stressors, then they can build up into something far more serious called chronic stress, which can contribute to anxiety and depression, according to the American Psychological Association.
Talk with a doctor.
About one-third of Americans have reportedly never discussed ways to manage their stress with a healthcare provider, according to an American Psychological Association survey. At the same time, chronic stress is becoming a public-health crisis across the US.
If you’re not sure where to begin tackling your stress, then a good way to start could be by consulting a physician.