I’m sitting down to write this after a not-so-restful night because I kept making mental lists about everything I need to do before the end of this week, including writing this blog. Some of those things are work-related, but many are things I need to do to make my family’s holiday “right.” I am currently in school, completing a fellowship, and working; as well as meeting the needs of three busy kids, while trying not to completely ignore my husband. Maybe that’s why I have been thinking a lot about stress and finding balance. There have also been many posts on Facebook recently about “simplifying” and reducing stress, so that’s probably part of it as well. But, the fact of the matter is, Americans are stressed, and for many people, the holidays only magnify the problem.
A recent poll by the American Psychological Association showed that the average stress level for men on a scale from 1-10 was 4.9 and for women was 5.3, an increase from 2014. The top sources of stress reported by respondents were money at 67%, work at 64%, followed by family responsibilities at 54%. I guess I fit the profile of a stressed American woman! The other interesting thing found in this survey was that 39% of respondents reported overeating and eating unhealthy foods as a response to stress – up from 33% in 2014. Stress can have a negative effect on your health, as any google search will tell you. The Mayo Clinic’s website has good information about stress and is a trusted source compared to some other things you might find out there.
In a nutshell, in case you’re too busy to click on the links, stress in the short- term can lead to headaches, muscle tension, chest pain and sleep problems (physician, heal thyself!). While sometimes stress can be a motivator to accomplish tasks, it also can negatively affect your mood by causing things like anxiety, irritability or depression. In the long term, stress can make heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes more likely. Pretty stressful just thinking about it!
So, what to do? I think that is the question we all wrestle with and I know I am not the first person to identify stress as something that I would like to reduce in my life. Well, as is clear from the first paragraph, I’m not an expert, but these are three things that I think might help:
– Read the blog by Barbie Harrison! Perfectionism, or at least believing that you have to do everything for everyone and do it in the cutest, most creative way you can find on Pinterest definitely contributes to increased stress. Do you love people more because they spent time on a card that has an intricate cutout and plays music? No, you love them because they are in your life and they spend time with you! (Ok, maybe not that simple, but you know what I mean).
– Make the quality of your “yesses” match the quantity of your “nos.” I heard this at a conference for “working women” (we ALL work, just in different jobs) and I try to put it into practice. It’s hard to say no, as is referenced by my first point, but nothing is rewarding if it’s done because of guilt or a desire to be all to all. Satisfaction comes from being able to do the things you choose to do the way you want to. And no holiday event is fun if you are irritable and exhausted – I know this from painful and personal experience.
– Over the holidays, schedule time to just “be.” I like this Zen proverb: “Meditate for twenty minutes a day – unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” Not everyone likes to meditate, but we all have things that help us relax and relieve stress. In my personal and clinical experience, exercise is great for this, but maybe you like to do something else. Make time for those things, even if it means that your kids’ teachers get gift cards rather than homemade cookies. They might like that better anyway! However, if baking cookies is your thing, then bake away!
Stress less and enjoy the holidays!