12 12 manage stress holidays organize spend less’Tis the season to sweat the small stuff...

...but whether you’re baking shortbread, visiting with loved ones or shopping for that perfect gift, take a minute to learn how to prevent all that small stuff from adding up into one big anxiety attack.


Do you blow the budget year after year? You’re not alone: according to an Ipsos Reid poll for RBC, one in three Canadians spent more than they intended to during the 2011 holiday season. And it doesn’t just cause immediate stress, over-spending will continue to bring you down well into the new year as your credit card bills trickle in.


When one person is responsible for the entire family’s good time, stress is bound to happen. But if you find yourself working more than you’re celebrating this holiday season, perhaps it’s time to reassign some tasks, suggests Dr. Katy Kamkar, PhD, a certified psychologist from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. “Are there things that people can do together that can also make it more fun? Gift wrapping, home décor, meals — delegating can make the holidays less overwhelming and help invoke the spirit of the season,” she says.           


Taking care of yourself is the first step in having a stress-free holiday. With that in mind, give yourself 30 minutes a day to do something you enjoy; Kamkar suggests taking a walk, listening to music or even just finding a quiet corner to read your favourite book.


One night out on the town is fine but try to stick to your normal waking and sleeping hours as much as possible and limit post-party sleep-ins to within an hour or so of your regular routine. When your body’s defences are down, every little problem seems worse, says Kamkar. And practising good sleep hygiene during this holiday season could be the difference between coping with a stressful situation and tossing the mashed potatoes at cousin Joe.


Obviously making healthy choices at the buffet table will help your waistline in the long run but did you know it can also boost your mood in the short term? Dr. Joey Shulman, DC, registered nutritionist of Shulman Weight Loss Clinics in Toronto, recommends reaching for foods that are rich in tryptophan to lowers your body’s levels of cortisol, the stress hormone and calm your frazzled nerves — think nuts, seeds and of course, turkey. Vitamin B-rich foods such as tuna and salmon are also a good choice as they help fight stress by regulating serotonin production. And remember, says Shulman, nix nutrient zappers such as sugar, alcohol and caffeine when you’re feeling anxious; they may help you feel better in the moment but you’ll likely feel worse later.


Exercise has long been touted as a great stress reliever and its benefits don’t end when the holiday season starts. Maintaining regular physical exercise during this time of the year helps you nip irritability and negative thinking in the bud, says Kamkar, and can prevent a stressful situation from evolving into a stressful holiday.


Baking, shopping, partying — with so many exciting invitations and family obligations to be enjoyed, one of the biggest problems can be squeezing in all the fun. Hey, maybe you can do it all, but chances are you won’t enjoy trying. Take control of your holiday schedule by making a list now and prioritizing items as must-do and nice-to-do, then scratch off anything that isn’t essential. “Figuring out what you can and can’t do will help you cope better with anxiety and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed,” says Kamkar. “Things don’t need to be perfect in order to be good.”


Recognize that some situations will be more stressful than you can handle and that it’s OK to say no sometimes. Long-time anxiety sufferer Jennifer Pinarski of Toronto did just that last year and she says it was her best holiday ever. “We made the decision to not visit family over the holidays and that helped a lot,” she says. “Being with all of them at once can be very stressful for me.” But if calling off the party entirely isn’t in the cards, take a time-out during the festivities to regroup. “If you feel like you’re getting overwhelmed, take a break…go outside for a breath of fresh air or step into another room,” says Kamkar.