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For many people, the holidays can be stressful. The expectation that the season is one of joy, when we may not be feeling cheerful, can create emotional challenges, as can dealing with difficult people and relationships.

The holidays can also mean attending events where celebration can lead to indulgence in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, excessive eating, and drinking as people reach out for ways to deal with stress. For those suffering from addiction, this time of year can be especially challenging as exposure to alcohol and other substances can create even greater issues. Fortunately, there are positive ways we can all reduce stress during the holiday season:

• Keep Expectations Realistic. Understand that most people face some level of challenge during the holiday season. Well before the holidays begin, we are bombarded with marketing efforts that paint the time as one of celebration, happy families, and boundless joy. For many people, this vision is not reality. Consequently, managing expectations and approaching events without judgment can help mitigate feelings of anger and disappointment if things are not picture-perfect.

• Prepare for Travel. If traveling long distances, be prepared for the trip. Being tired and/or hungry can increase stress levels. Therefore, get plenty of rest before you begin your journey and keep to a regular sleep schedule, as best you can while you are away. During your travels, stay hydrated and keep snacks on hand that are in line with a healthy diet. Plan extra time to stop to eat, if necessary, and look in advance for restaurants on the route or at the airport or train station that offer appropriate cuisine.

• Maintain Self-Care. In order to maintain balance and enjoy a pleasant holiday visit, it is important to take some “me” time. Even if you are far from home, continue with your yoga, meditation, or other practices. Spend time in nature; if weather permits, take short walks. You can also simply find a quiet place to read or listen to soothing music.

• Know your Limits. To avoid unhealthy behaviors that you don’t want to engage in, stick to your limits by planning a strategy in advance. For instance, if alcohol is an issue for you but will be a large part of a gathering you are attending, reach out to the host and offer to bring some non-alcoholic alternatives. This would not only benefit you, but other guests as well. If you work with a therapist, counselor, or other support person, talk with him or her beforehand and find out if he or she can be available to you should a problem arise.

• Identify Stressors. Make a list of the people, situations, expectations and/or exposure to unhealthy substances you will face during the holiday season and consider the most successful ways you can deal with each of those categories. Once at a celebration, connect with guests who know and support you. Conversely, avoid individuals who do not help you feel happy, safe, and secure or who may trigger unhealthy behaviours. If an event seems like it will be too difficult for you to handle, you may choose not to attend, or you may ask to bring a friend who can support you.

• Keep it Light. At holiday gatherings, keep the conversation light, using humor and steering towards topics everyone can enjoy. Talking about how grateful we are for all our loved ones do for us and reminding each other why we gather to celebrate together are ways everyone can participate in a pleasant discussion. Additionally, consider spending time with those who may be alone at the party, children, or older people, who would appreciate your company.

• Exercise. Physical activity can be a helpful way to energize yourself and release stress. At holiday celebrations, take a brisk walk after the main meal. This will aid digestion, help the body produce endorphins, clear the head, and enable you to socialize with those who would appreciate a little exercise rather than overindulge.

Remember, it’s Temporary. The holidays are a “season,” not an eternity. The adage, “This too shall pass,” is a good outlook to maintain during stressful times. When fulfilling holiday commitments that feel stressful to you, recognize that a party is a temporary gathering. If the festivities grow too long for you to enjoy, simply thank the hosts and take your leave at a time that feels appropriate to you.

• Give to Others. During the season, you may choose to engage in volunteer work to help those less fortunate in your community. Activities such as working in a soup kitchen or food pantry, helping at a women’s shelter, gathering toys for underserved children, or spending time with shelter animals can help us make positive contributions and feel good about ourselves.

• Practice Gratitude. Make a list of the many people, pets, circumstances, and things we appreciate in our lives. Doing so can help elevate our moods and offer us many reasons to celebrate.

By finding positive ways to appreciate the season and interact with one another, we can pave the way for happier holidays, creating lasting memories that we can enjoy, long after the festivities are over.

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