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Plan for a Stress-Free Holiday

Guest list? Check. The family’s fine china? Check. Stress? Check, check, check.

When it comes to planning for the holidays, stress almost always seems to go hand-in-hand with getting ready for the festivities. Stress can become overwhelming this time of year, from the added financial pressure of purchasing gifts to the anxiety of seeing challenging family members (and everything in between). But it doesn’t have to be.

For older adults, stress is more challenging to manage and is important to avoid. Hope Ricciotti, M.D. and Hye-Chun Hur, M.D., M.P.H., Editors-in-Chief of Harvard Women's Health Watch, noted that “It can become more difficult to cope [with stress] as you get older for a number of reasons,” including the fact that it becomes harder for your body to handle it.

With your physical and emotional health in mind, here are five ways to enjoy stress-free holidays this year:

Plan Ahead

Last-minute plans, changes in travel, and a never-ending to-do list are enough to stress anyone out. Get ahead of the holidays with as much planning as possible. Decide who you are visiting or hosting. Does everyone have a travel plan? Does anyone have questions about the holidays? Confirm plans with family or friends, and be sure to know how and when you will be traveling, as this time of year creates notorious chaos for travelers.

Next, tackle your to-do list! If you’re hosting this year, you may feel overwhelmed by the never-ending list of tasks in your head. Get them down on paper. That way, you can prioritize as needed. Experts suggest taking on the most complex tasks on your to-do list first and celebrating progress as you check things off your list. This will also help prevent all the last-minute mayhem that comes along with procrastination and forgetfulness.

Stick With Routines

Stress can manifest in many ways. There are physical and mental signs of stress, and one of the easiest ways to cause an increase in stress is to make drastic changes in routines. Make a note of daily schedules before the holidays. When do you exercise, eat and go to sleep? Then assess which habits must stay in place and which are more flexible. 

It’s also essential to create a routine that revolves around self-care this time of year. The daily demands of everyday life can be stressful enough without the added pressure of pulling off holiday magic for your loved ones. To prevent burnout, establish a self-care routine that prioritizes eating well, exercising and sleeping 7-8 hours per night. After all, it’s hard to create holiday magic when you are not feeling very magical.

Make Your Menu

Did you know that certain foods can help alleviate stress? Cortisol, the primary hormone related to stress, can have a significant impact on your overall health. Cortisol has the power to alter your metabolism, your sleep cycles, and your blood pressure. When cortisol is too high, all of those systems can feel out of whack, making it hard for you to feel good in your own body. However, eating the right foods can have a positive impact on lowering your cortisol levels (along with stress reduction practices like meditation and yoga).

According to The Cleveland Clinic, “The goal is to eat foods that reduce inflammation in your body, thus reducing cortisol levels.” Foods high in Vitamin B, Magnesium, and Omega-3 are powerful at reducing stress. And many cortisol-lowering foods may already be on your menu, including guacamole, pumpkin seeds, and hard-boiled eggs.

Create Lasting Memories

Does your family have holiday traditions? While you can always create new ones, make it a point to ensure that time-honored traditions continue. A Drexel University study found that art reduces stress. Create decorations or crafts together as part of your holiday gathering this year.

Music also reduces stress. Consider playing smooth jazz during your holiday gatherings or simply gathering your family together for an impromptu dance party during your prep time. And if your family happens to love caroling, consider joining in the fun this year by entertaining your neighbors. For those who love to sing but have a bit of stage fright, you can keep the caroling limited to your living room and your closest friends and family members.

Remember What The Holidays Are All About

While it’s easy to get caught up in the “perfection” of the holiday season, don’t lose sight of what the holiday spirit is really about. The holidays are most meaningful because of who you spend them with. Make the most of this year’s holidays by reflecting on memories and creating new ones. Good memories reduce stress, and family interviews are a great way to relive days past and pass along family stories.

Take the opportunity this year to leave the stress behind and enjoy time with those you love. The greatest gift of the holiday season is time together, after all.

Hilary Young Author

Hilary Young is a writer dedicated to helping older Americans live healthier, more fulfilling lives. She currently blogs for HuffPost50 and Medical Guardian. You can find her on Twitter as @hyoungcreative.

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