The holidays can introduce a great deal of stress

When we think about health in the holiday season we immediately think about weight and diet.  People worry that they are going to gain five or ten pounds.  But a study in New England Journal of Medicine indicates that the average weight gain between September and the end of the year is 1.2 pounds.  The problem is not the 1.2 pounds but getting that little bit off before the next season.  If we are not careful we will gain about 10 pounds in a decade.  
There is also an impression that the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas sees a spike in suicides.  That, in fact, is not true.  Suicides actually drop off during this time, but the rates jump 40% in the month following the holidays.  During the holidays we do see a larger than normal influx of people who suffer psychological disorders, especially depression.  Loneliness and social isolation are also huge predictors of depression.  People who feel disconnected from friends and family are especially vulnerable.  
Even for the healthiest among us, the holidays can introduce a great deal of stress.  We may feel pressure to buy the right gifts, attend too many functions, and over indulge in food and drink.  While the “holiday cheer” seems to have a life of its own, we can set a course for health that includes some of these suggestions:
Stay active and keep moving.  Travel, family and social events might intrude on your usual exercise regimen.  Whenever you can, squeeze in a brisk walk or get to the YMCA for your usual workout.  Get out with the kids and throw a football or sink some hoops.  You will find that you will feel better, sleep better, and digest all of that turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy much better.
What stresses you out during the holidays?  If you answer that question honestly it might also be kind of difficult.  Which of those stresses can you minimize or eliminate?  I know of a family that recently made the decision not to go to grandma’s for Thanksgiving because she is bitter, cantankerous, and judgmental.  They hated being there and always left in a foul mood.  If shopping at the overcrowded malls makes you crazy think about buying from local shops.  The point is to quit doing all the things somebody else thinks you should be doing for the holidays.  Don’t be afraid to set your own boundaries and your priorities for the holidays.
Dr. Karen Syrjala of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center wrote, “Remember your precious people.”  Spend time over the holidays with people who are essential to you; people you love to be with; people who build relationships rather than tear them down; people who have a great sense of humor and bring you joy; people who add meaning and value to your life.
Whether its Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Ramadan, or Easter stop to give thanks.  There is a growing body of research that indicates a strong relationship between happiness and gratitude.  Ann Voskamp wrote about the despair that overwhelmed her family with the accidental death of her sister.  They were plagued by guilt and grief.  In One Thousand Gifts she describes a challenge that a friend gave her to keep a list of all the gifts that were extended to her.  Ann started a journal that eventually reached one thousand entries.  The list included an unexpected letter from a friend, coffee with a neighbor, or the simple pleasure of warm sunshine on a winter’s day.  Her gratitude changed her life and saved her from anguish.  I would bet you that if we all cultivated gratitude every celebration would be joyful.



Chaplain Gary Blaine, D.Min., provides Pastoral Care at Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital.  He received his Doctorate of Ministry from Emory University, and holds certifications as a grief counselor and a grief group facilitator.  He can be reached via e-mail at jblaine@sbamh.org.