Managing Stress through the Holidays

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December 5, 2019
Shannon W. Jones III, Jacki Hecht, Tara Hutson, and Reverend Daryl Horton

African American Mental Health and Wellness (AMEN) team is collaborating with KAZI FM 88.7 in producing a radio series to highlight the importance of addressing mental health and physical wellness in the African American community. The monthly series will feature AMEN team members from the School of Nursing, leaders from Mt. Zion Baptist and Rehoboth Baptist churches, and community organizations who provide mental health resources and support in Travis county.

Episode 2: Managing Stress through the Holidays

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In this episode, Jacki Hecht, RN, MSN, Managing Director of the AMEN program at the UT Austin School of Nursing talks about the unique stressors that arise around the holidays. Tara Hutson, Family Nurse Practitioner and PhD student at the School of Nursing shares how stress impacts both physical and mental health, and offers tips for managing these stressors during the holidays. Reverend Daryl Horton from Mt. Zion Baptist church describes how AMEN and Mt. Zion are working together to help congregants become more mindful and engage in activities that reduce stress. The episode is moderated by Shannon W. Jones III, former Director of Austin Public Health.

Tara Hutson, Jacki Hecht, Reverend  Daryl Horton and Shannon W. Jones III

The holidays often bring a special anticipation of togetherness with family, friends, co-workers, and community. With this, comes the expectation of joy, laughter, and a feeling of belonging. However, for many people, the holidays are also a time of increased stress and pressure to create the perfect event or purchase just the right gifts. Over the holidays people tend to take on additional responsibilities to clean and decorate their homes for guests, buy and prepare special foods, shop for and wrap gifts, and squeeze in numerous holiday gatherings, on top of increasingly busy schedules. Mix in the added worries about how to pay for the added costs, and the holidays can easily become an exhausting blur of late night events, running on fumes and a pile of expenses!

In addition, some people experience loss, loneliness and grief over the holidays, which may perpetuate year after year.

The holidays don’t have to be a time of chaos. Here are some tips to guide you in approaching the holidays with a clear sense of purpose and meaning that may help you conserve energy, recharge your spirit, be more present, and find healing moments:

Create a Sense of Quiet, Stillness, Peace, and Gratitude

We spend so much time rushing and trying to get things done. Practicing mindfulness or spirituality can give us a quiet respite. Time spent meditating, praying, or appreciating what is around and within us can create space to look at our stressors from a different perspective. Focusing on the small and large "gifts" in our lives can help us appreciate what we already have and offer moments of peace and gratitude.

Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion involves treating yourself as you would treat a friend who is having a hard time. It is about becoming a kind and caring friend to ourselves, instead of beating ourselves up for not being perfect. This may include saying “no” to certain invitations, in order to have time for ourselves to rest and recharge. It also includes being kind and compassionate in the way we “talk to ourselves.” For example, giving ourselves permission to take time out to do something good for us, rather than saying “yes” to every invite we receive, or not letting ourselves rest until everything on our “to do” list is complete. If you have experienced loss around the holidays, how might you create a new tradition that allows you take care of yourself, rather than just focus on expectations? Giving yourself permission to grieve and feel loss or sadness is an important part of taking care of yourself.

Enhance a Sense of Connectedness

Feeling a part of something greater than ourselves can make us feel less isolated and alone. Most stressors seem smaller and easier to deal with when we feel like we belong to and can connect with others, our community, or a higher power who can offer acceptance, comfort, and strength. Make a special effort to reach out and connect with people in your community; you might find that your presence offers them comfort, as well.

Gain Perspective and Increase Meaning

Consider what meaning the holidays have for you, and focus on what you need at this time. Consider volunteering to give back to your community or helping a friend in need to be reminded of the true spirit of the holidays. Having a spiritual practice is one way to make problems seem more manageable. In addition, spirituality helps us to clarify our values, and focus on related goals that are important, rather than becoming consumed by material things or circumstances that don’t mean as much.

Get Organized

Make a "to-do" list, and rank them in order of priority. Keep things simple, and don't over-commit. Focusing on the things that are most important to you might free you up to let go of the ones that matter less.  

Be Physically Active and Get Out Into Nature

Physical activity produces endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as natural "pain-killers," which help to improve alertness and concentration, while reducing feelings of fatigue. As little as 5 minutes of physical activity can improve mental fitness, and help you get through this busy time, feeling more vibrant and able to manage the demands of this busy time. A 20-30 minute nature experience can significantly lower cortisol levels, the hormone associated with the stress response.

Treat Yourself!

Give yourself a “gift of health” to remind yourself that YOU are important. Reflect on all that you do throughout the year and reward yourself with something that truly feels special. YOU deserve it!

Click here to download the "Stress Reduction During the Holidays and Beyond" handout (PDF)

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