How to Defeat Holiday Stress and Stay in Shape

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Thriving Through the Holidays: Part 2 

By Megan M. Krischke, contributor 

December 13, 2012 - The holiday season is filled with friends, family, food, parties, presents and, well, stress.  All of the extra activities and obligations at this time of year add to the stresses many nurses are already facing with working long hours, managing a family and giving of themselves to others on a daily basis.

These rising stress levels are directly linked with poor eating choices, and the busyness of the season can make it hard to find time for regular workout routines.

Understand stress and what you can control 

Coping with Holiday Stress
Andrea Krakower, wellness program manager for Scripps Health, urges nurses over the holidays to focus on what they are already doing right.

“Be kind to yourself,” urged Andrea Krakower, wellness program manager at Scripps Health in San Diego. “It is a really overwhelming time for a lot of people. I would encourage nurses to think about the things they are already doing right. For instance, most floor nurses are walking five to seven miles every shift.”

Too much stress creates unhealthy cycles, explained Holly Mosier, author of the award-winning book, Stress Less, Weigh Less, and creator of Holly Mosier’s 10 Minute Yoga video. Mosier is also a lawyer, mother, wife and stepmother, and she knows about stress.

“Additional demands create stress and that spikes appetites for high-fat, high-sugar and high-sodium foods and it also causes fatigue which makes people less likely to work out,” she said. “Stress also disrupts sleep and that wreaks havoc on endorphins and appetite hormones. Disrupted sleep hampers the immune system and makes people more susceptible to illness.”

“The first thing I would encourage nurses to do is opt out--say no to activities, demands, requests and invitations that leave you depleted with no time for yourself,” she added. “This is more important now than any other time of the year.”

Coping with Holiday Stress
As a lawyer, author, wife, and mother, Holly Mosier understands that life is stressful--especially during the holidays; she offers strategies to help you cope.

“Pick and choose the things you really want to do and that are good for your family,” Mosier continued. “Build in buffers of down time, which will mean saying no to some invitations. I have found, building in these buffers, that when I showed up to the things I did commit to, I enjoyed the event more and I was more enjoyable to be around.”

Krakower concurred, saying, “If what you need is two hours of time to yourself, say ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ to the invitation and stay home in your jammies. Let go of the expectation to be all things to all people.”

She acknowledges that it can be difficult to say no, but encourages nurses to slow down and think it through. “Consider whether it feels worse to say no, or to feel stressed, overwhelmed and tired. This time of year doesn’t lend itself to being the perfect time to learn the skill of saying no, but it is a critical skill.”

Don’t neglect your work outs 

Exercise is a crucial element to fending off stress and staying healthy through the holidays, but it is easy to let it get squeezed out.  Shorter days mean many nurses go to work in the dark and come home in the dark, and the colder weather makes getting outside more difficult.

“Working out doesn’t mean you have to go the gym,” asserted Krakower. “You can do jumping jacks, lunges and sit-ups in the living room. If you don’t have a lot of time, the high intensity workouts are great for fat burning.  Thirty minutes of a high intensity workout will help to burn more calories throughout the day.”

“People get it in their heads that they have to work out for an hour,” she continued, “but a focused and intense 20 minutes is a legitimate workout. Also, consider winter sports like snowshoeing and cross country skiing on days off.”

Krakower recommends making exercise the first thing you do during the day, if possible, and, if not, to schedule it in. She warns, however, not to cut out much-needed sleep to make time to exercise, since more and more research is showing that sleep may be more important than exercise for fighting weight gain.

Mosier also recommends breaking workouts into shorter sessions.

“Do 10 minutes at lunch, another 10 minutes walking the dog. Incorporating movement throughout the day is more important than having a dedicated hour to work out. It is the regularity of activity that reduces stress and weight,” she said. “For most nurses, it is natural to have a lot of movement throughout the day, but at certain points you do want to see your heart rate up. I find that if I do my 10 to 12 minutes of intervals in the morning, I’m more likely to do a second or third session.”

Breathe easy 

Krakower’s final piece of advice for managing stress is to breathe--even if it requires setting an hourly alarm to make sure that you are taking deep breaths.

Mosier also swears by the power of thoughtful breaths.  She recommends a four-count breath--breathing in a deep “belly breath” to a count of four and then slowly exhaling to a count of four. Taking three of four of these breaths before a meal or before entering a meeting, a party or even in the midst of a high-pressure situation can help offset stress and bring a more focused state of calm.

“The quality of your breath matches the quality of your state of mind,” she remarked.

See also:

8 Ways to Make Friends with Food During the Holidays: Thriving Through the Holidays, Part 1.



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