Holiday Stress Affects the Majority of Americans

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According to research from the American Psychological Association, three-fourths of American adults report moderate to high levels of stress. The holiday season adds stressors for many, which can negatively affect both physical and mental health.

The APA has released its most recent Stress in America survey, and has found that financial concerns are the leading source of stress for 71% of Americans this holiday season. Other stressors include work, family responsibilities, painful memories, and being alone. Even children are feeling the strain. The study finds that children are nearly two times more likely to worry about financial concerns than their parents realize.

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Lack of sleep is one result of a high-stress environment. A national study by SleepBetter.org found that one in six Americans (17%) is expected to lose sleep due to holiday-induced stress. The findings are a part of the group’s Holiday Slumber Index, which measures the impact of the holidays on Americans’ sleep patterns. Parents are the most susceptible, with 27% indicating that holiday stressors cause the sleep loss.

There are ways to have a happier, healthier holiday season. Here are some suggestions on dealing with holiday stress:
• Be realistic. Family issues during the year do not magically resolve during the holiday season. In fact, because everyone is under added stress, there may be more irritations and family feuds. Forget the “It’s a Wonderful Life” vision of perfection. Accept everyone for who they are, and do not expect miraculous changes.
• Know when to say no. There may not be enough time to do everything you want this holiday season. It is okay not to attend every party you are invited, make a five-course Christmas dinner, or make all the costumes for the school holiday pageant. Choose your priorities and politely decline those which do not provide value to your holiday season.
• Prevent overspending. Financial concerns are one of the most common holiday stressors that last into the New Year. Create a budget and stick to it. Remember that the true meaning of the holidays is personal relationships. Try making homemade gifts, such as a photo album, scrapbook, or personalized craft to show someone how much they have meant to you over the year without spending a lot of cash.
• Give of yourself. The best gift is not a material thing, it is your presence in someone’s life. Many charitable organizations are also feeling economic stress this time of year. You and your family can enjoy the true meaning of the holidays and help someone in need.
• Eat a healthy diet the majority of the time. Stress and anxiety during the holiday season can lead to overeating and weight gain that will persist even after the holidays are over. On the other hand, do not attempt to follow an overly-strict diet during holiday parties and family get-togethers. Plan your diet so that you can enjoy the occasional Christmas cookie or holiday egg nog without guilt.
• Don’t let your exercise plan fall by the wayside. You may have even less time than normal during a busy holiday season, but exercise relieves stress and anxiety, balances food intake to prevent weight gain, and helps with sleep issues.
• Take some time for yourself. Slow down and enjoy some holiday music or other favorite activity. While this may seem counterproductive, it has been shown that by taking the time to reduce stress, you can actually get more done.
• Seek support if needed. If you are feeling depressed or overwhelmed by the holidays, seek help through a professional counselor or trusted friend.

For more tips on a less stressful holiday, Cigna Health Care offers a free Wellness Workbook, “Coping with Holiday Stress: 10 Keys to Creating Healthy Holidays” at www.cigna.com.

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