Give yourself the gift of mastering stress

  • Pin It
The holiday season is upon us -- a time to lovingly connect with family, to relax, recharge and emerge happy, content and revitalized.

Just kidding.

In fact, of course, it's usually the complete opposite. But why is that? What is it about special occasions -- whether it's holidays or weddings or birthdays or even just dinner parties -- that fills us with such stress? Instead of leaving us recharged, the holiday season is more likely to leave us drained. Or "blorft," as Tina Fey calls it. "'Blorft' is an adjective I just made up," she writes in "Bossypants," "that means 'Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.'" Most of us have been there, felt that. And many will be blorft again this week, as the harried prep for Thanksgiving unofficially marks the opening of the Stress Season that will last through New Year's Day, when we can officially start feeling guilty about breaking the resolutions we'll make in response to the stress-induced overindulgence of the holiday season.

So that's why this is the perfect moment to slow down and reflect on why what should be a time of generosity, celebration and coming together so often becomes a time of high anxiety. It's also a moment to focus on the steps we can take to truly enjoy the holiday season. Because it's not just enjoyment that holiday stress can take from us, but our health, as well. In the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, Dr. Robert Kloner coined the maladies the "Merry Christmas Coronary" and the "Happy New Year Heart Attack" to describe the increase in cardiac problems during the holiday season -- so there's a lot more at stake than dealing with your mother-in-law's passive-aggressive compliments ("I didn't know you could do this with a turkey ... so creative!").

So how do we change things? As with most things, we can start by changing ourselves -- how we react to the seasonal madness. And if enough people changed, then the culture itself would change. "If you want to change the world," Alexander Solzhenitsyn asked, "who do you begin with, yourself or others?"

Stress is truly in the eye -- and the psyche and arteries and heart and immune system -- of the beholder. Change the way we deal with it and we change the situation. But how to do that?

Of course, the holidays have a stress-producing capacity all their own. Activities we should ostensibly enjoy become wellsprings of stress. People we love become just more items to check off on the to-do list. Instead of feeling connected to our friends and family, they come to represent obligations that make us feel more distant.

Gratitude can be the greatest antidote to stress during the holidays. And what better time to start practicing it than during Thanksgiving? Robert Emmons of the University of California-Davis and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami have done a lot of research in the field of gratitude. And they have found that people who keep gratitude journals and gratitude lists have more enthusiasm, determination, energy, optimism -- and less stress.

Of course, one of my favorite tips for any season is "Get enough sleep." Adequate sleep is especially needed around the holidays, since too little REM-time will exacerbate every holiday stress point from gift-buying to holiday meals with your in-laws. One of my own gift-giving tips is to find something you really love and give it to everybody on your list! It's not only a great time-saver, it's also a great way to share something you love -- whether it's a book or my favorite Pottery Barn alarm clock, which I gave to all my friends last year so they could stop using the excuse that they needed their iPhone by their bed to wake them up in the morning.

One of the most centered people I know, Joan Witkowski, who does body work and breathing coordination, has a simple practice for herself that we can all use during the holiday shopping insanity: "Monday is my day of errands, so I used to go down my to-do list and then come home at the end of the day exhausted. Now, I introduce moments of being and recovery in between my errands. I find a cafe or a place to sit, not to look at my phone, but to just breathe and be. By the end of the day, I have everything done and so much more energy."

There are many tools. The key is to prioritize not letting stress turn the holidays from a time of renewal to a time of frenzy. "Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life," writes the artist Brian Andreas. I love that quote because it reminds me that even though we may think that we can't possibly fit everything we have to do into the time we have, we can fit everything important.

So as we head into the Most Wonderful -- uh, Stressful -- Time of the Year, let's remember to give ourselves the first gift: the gift of mastering our stress and not being slaves to it.

(Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is arianna@huffingtonpost.com.)

  • Pin It

Editorial Poll


THE EDITORIAL BOARD


Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

Peter Jensen, former State House reporter and features writer, takes the lead on state government, transportation issues and the environment; he is the board's resident funny man and capital schmooze.

Glenn McNatt, who returned to editorial writing after serving as the newspaper's art critic, keeps an eye on the arts, culture, politics and the law for the editorial board.

O'Malley and migrant children [Poll]

Gov. Martin O'Malley met again Monday with faith leaders to discuss housing for undocumented minors crossing the U.S. border. Was he hypocritical to urge the government to treat the children as refugees while discouraging the Obama administration from housing them at a facility in Carroll County?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not sure

PHOTO GALLERIES