It’s easy to become overwhelmed during the holidays, but Medical Center experts advise de-stressing by keeping expectations realistic and remembering to pause and enjoy the season.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed during the holidays, but Medical Center experts advise de-stressing by keeping expectations realistic and remembering to pause and enjoy the season.
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As holidays approach, de-stress by 'keeping it real'

Published on Thursday, December 19, 2019

By: Ruth Cummins

The holidays traditionally make your emotions soar, but sometimes, what you’re really feeling is stress.

Portrait of Dr. Daniel Williams

Dr. Daniel Williams, division chief in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, offers tips on how to get the most out of the season without succumbing to tension, pressure and overexertion:

  • Keep the holidays in perspective. “We sometimes set the bar really, really high for what the holidays need to be,” Williams said. “It’s important to keep realistic expectations for how well we can meet the needs of the people around us. We think that Christmas has to be the most magical thing for our children and families, and things might not work out that way.”
  • Continue to get exercise, even if the holidays are hectic. “Sometimes we get so busy with all of the different obligations, and running from event to event, that we forget to take care of our own needs,” Williams said.
  • Take time to enjoy the holidays, which could represent a significant chunk of your annual vacation time. “Be grateful for what you have, and for your hopes for the New Year,” Williams said. “Continue to take the time to do the fun things you do in life that bring you happiness and joy, like going to the gym or seeing friends. Don’t let the busyness of the holidays crowd them out.”
Portrait of Dr. Danny Burgess

The holidays can throw you for a loop if you’re not mindful of how you spend your time, said Dr. Danny Burgess, associate professor of psychiatry and director of UMMC’s Center for Integrative Health.

His advice:

  • Don’t abandon your normal routines. “Events come up – quick shopping trips here and there, last-minute doctor’s appointments – and your schedule gets full,” Burgess said. “You’re so overwhelmed with the new responsibilities that you abandon your routine activities that keep you less stressed, like going to the gym or taking time for meal prep during the week.

“I tell my patients that even though it’s going to be difficult over the chaos of the next few months, they need to keep a routine and schedule in place. That needs to be your first priority. Schedule the other things around that.”

  • Be mindful about getting enough rest. “Shopping online or going to parties can make people get off their normal sleep schedule,” Burgess said. “When you abandon basic self-care activities, your emotional and physical stress goes up. Then, it’s really difficult to manage your overall stress level.”

If you’re used to going to bed by 10, for example, have the mentality that you’re going to keep to that schedule.

Doris Whitaker, director of Pastoral Services, says honesty is the best policy during the holidays.

Portrait of Doris Whitaker

“Feel what you feel, and don’t pretend to be Wonder Woman or Superman,” she said. “There are times when you will be Wonder Woman or Superman, but there are times like this, especially around the holidays, when you will not be.”

Her advice:

  • Take the time to prioritize when you feel overwhelmed by not just the holidays, but by life, she said.

“We think Santa has a long list. We do, too,” Whitaker said. “We have to prioritize what matters most. In the ED, there are triage nurses who see everyone, and who are trained to see who needs the doctor first. We also have to prioritize and put first things first.”

As you welcome family and make final preparations, Williams said, pause and reflect.

“Take time to be in the moment, and enjoy the traditions that you have,” he said.