Area experts suggest ways to avoid stress while enjoying the holidays


When the holidays come around every year, we often take the time to celebrate the many wonderful things in life — food, family, friends, gifts, and health are among the lengthy list. But, what happens in this perfectly imperfect world when there's more stress than celebration?

Whether you're worrying about bills, last-minute shopping, finishing final exams or making food for the office party, nothing is worth concluding 2015 on an exhausting note. In order to keep up with festivities, experts recommend taking care of your mental and physical health by not overdoing it at work and avoiding sensitive tensions within the family.

In the midst of running around, perhaps taking time to jump into a fitness class on Saturday mornings will help tone down the surrounding stressors.

"The best way to reduce stress is by sticking to your health and fitness routine," said Andrea Malinowski, group fitness instructor at Optionz Health and Fitness in Bennington, Vt. "We often drop our exercise program during the holidays because we're so busy with errands and to-do lists when, in actuality, we need more exercise than ever."

Malinowski suggests making a daily run or walk an appointment in your calendar, just as an errand or doctor's visit would be scheduled.

"When you take the time to take care of yourself, you're ensuring that you'll have the energy and peace of mind to get all your tasks done efficiently and timely," she said. "Besides that, exercise releases those feel good endorphins and who can't use a little of that this time of year?"

With warm weather trends the Northeast, embrace the fresh air and lighten the load of gift shopping by going to stores you can walk to.

"Maintain your exercise and nutrition routine," said Kelsey Pierce, physician's assistant at Express Care at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington. "With the warm weather we're having, get outside for a walk when you can."

Overindulging on sugary sweets is inevitable for some during family and holiday gatherings, as well as alcohol consumption. It's easy to neglect a healthy lifestyle with frequent temptation, according to Aaron Sardell, clinical psychologist at the Counseling Center in the Berkshires in Pittsfield, Mass.

"Consequently, many people will sleep less, overeat, eat foods that are excessively rich in calories, and overuse alcohol," Sardell said. "So, I also suggest that people maintain exercise regimens and engage in relaxing and quieting activities such as yoga or meditation."

While exercise can resolve some individual's holiday worries, others may need to mentally prepare for family gatherings or biting the tongue around in-laws.

To reduce stress during this time of year, Psychologist David Mellinger, who owns his own practice in Bennington, Vt., suggests three ways to organize the weight of what baggage the holiday could bring.

The first, he advises, is to clarify what your priorities are.

"Is it to spend as much time as possible with friends? Is it to try and remember the spirituality aspect of the holidays?" he asked, "Not only faith, but reconnecting with people who are important? Or, is it to fit in at parties and other events?"

Not everything can be a priority, Mellinger said.

Crystal Labbe-Hasty, physician's assistant at Express Care at SVMC, agrees.

"Make a list of all the things you'd like to do and choose the most enjoyable ones," she said. "Don't feel obligated to do too much."

Mellinger's second piece of advice is to accept there will be planning and family conflicts during this time of year.

"Not everything is going to go the way we want it to," he said. "Accept that there are family members we get along with better than others."

Family that is present during holidays may not be around otherwise, so remember that the current moment is to be cherished with them, Mellinger added.

"One way to keep conflict low is to avoid getting caught up in contentious conversations. We need to remind ourselves that people are who they are and they have their opinions and we have ours."

Mellinger's last point, and a more common issue overlooked at holiday gatherings, is to remember everyone's individual freedom.

"Not everyone is going to want to do the same thing or want to join in on the same thing," he said. "There's some pressure that if everyone wants to do something, others will have to participate. Really things will go better, overall, if people have some leeway or choice in what they participate in."

Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.


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