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Pre-Holiday Stress to Post-Holiday Stress – and Beyond

Posted Dec 15 2009 8:44am

We’re eating too much. We’re spending too much. There’s no time. We’re not ready for the holidays. We have stress. And then, all of a sudden, the holidays are over, and now we feel let-down, depressed, even more stressed and, to add insult to injury—guilty. There’s no way to un-eat, un-drink or un-spend what we ate, drank and spent. All we can do now is damage control.

Experts say it’s a combination of many factors that results in both pre- and post-holiday stress: unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization and financial constraints as well as the demands of shopping, parties, family reunions, house guests, and too much joy and cheer. We experience stress in the form of headaches, over-eating, difficulty sleeping, muscle tension, bloating or fatigue from too much fat or sugar, and the guilt from eating, drinking and spending too much. In fact, stress is sometimes the result of a little too much of everything, even the good times with family and friends.

And it’s not good. Did you know:

  • 55% to 75% of all illnesses are thought to be stress related
  • 15% of American workers abuse drugs and alcohol
  • 88% of employees say they have a hard time juggling work and life
  • Stress costs American employers approximately $200 billion a year in absenteeism, lower productivity, health care and workers compensation costs
  • Between 75 – 90% of visits to primary care physicians are related to stress

(Sources for above stats: EAP Digest)

  • Health care expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress (Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine)

Now that we know (as if we didn’t already) that we’re a little “stressed,” what can we do about it right now? Sorry, but we can’t help with the stress from spending too much money or too much time at great aunt Bertha’s. But we can offer the following food / stress-related tips:

  • Get Moving – Getting the blood flowing is the perfect remedy for a “food hangover.” Think simple, such as walking, yoga, stretching. Even 15 minutes will boost your mood and energy level.
  • Drink Water – Bloating can be an overload of salt which can cause water retention. Many holiday favorites contain much more salt than our bodies need, and extra water can help rid the body of this extra salt.
  • Eat lightly – You may think, “I’ll never eat again,” but you will get hungry. Nibbling on lighter fare for awhile, such as salad, soup, fruit, grilled fish, or sandwiches on whole grain bread will provide nutrients without overloading your body with calories and fat.
  • Make a “Little” Plan – Of all the side-effects that come from eating too much, guilt is one of the worst. But we can use it to move us on to something better. Start with a plan for just the “next few days” to get back on track. Even the act of planning is productive—the follow-through the reward. Plan to increase your level of physical activity, and plan healthy nutritious choices.
  • Look to the Future – Don’t just write off the mistakes made during the holiday season. We should learn from them, and use them to make positive choices in the future.

So yes, we can probably all agree that there’s a lot of stress associated with the holidays, but for many of us stress isn’t relegated to just the holidays. Finding consistent ways to handle the strain of stress is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Do you have suggestions or tips that work for you? We’d like to know.

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