Resolve to reduce stress in the year ahead
Aloha from Hawaii. Given the amazing beauty here, it's no surprise that, according to a Gallup poll last year, Hawaii residents were the least stressed in the entire country. So I'm in the least-stressed state during the most stressful time of the year: the holidays. A survey by Consumer Reports found that 90 percent of Americans find at least one thing stressful about the holiday season. Who are these 10 percent who feel no holiday stress?
Stress, what it does to us and how to best manage it, has been a long-time obsession of HuffPost (and of mine). And just because I'm in the least stressed state doesn't mean I've stopped thinking about it -- in fact, this is the perfect place to put things in perspective. The time to consider what stresses you out and adopt some techniques to mitigate the effects of stress is not when you're in full freakout mode. Of course, stress isn't limited to the holidays -- it's just that this is the time when we stress out to different background music and least expect it.
So what follows are tips not only for holiday stress. If you're in that 90 percent who's stressed out this week and next, this might be the list you should be checking twice -- HuffPost Healthy Living Senior Editor Laura Schocker put together "8 Seasonal Ways to Chill Out." Among them:
-- Strolling through a Christmas tree farm (or faking it)
-- Cutting down your own Christmas tree can be a bonding family activity -- and it might have some stress busting benefits, as well.
-- Cuing up the Christmas carols. A 2009 Cochrane Systematic Review found that among heart patients, listening to music can decrease blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety levels.
-- Giving a gift: According to 2008 research from the University of British Columbia and the Harvard Business School, people report greater happiness when they spend money on gifts for others or on charitable donations than they do when they spend that cash on themselves.
Of course, for many of us, the best part of the holiday season -- as well as the most stressful -- revolves around food, which is so often the focal point of the holiday experience. Chef Giada de Laurentiis offers some pointers on avoiding a heaping helping of meal-related stress:
-- Write down the full menu, including everything from the main course to specialty drinks and dessert. To set yourself up for success, plan your menu around a single star item and add a cast of supporting characters that are easy to make or can be prepped ahead of time.
-- Include one menu item that requires last-minute prep. It brings everyone to the kitchen and sets the tone for a fun dinner party.
I especially like that last one, since everybody not only likes to congregate in the kitchen but also to feel useful.
Travel is the other huge holiday stressor. Especially because it seems the entire country is also traveling -- and on your plane, to boot. But among the "14 Things Not to Worry About When Traveling" are:
-- Your email inbox.
-- Keeping in touch: Send an old-fashioned postcard or carry a tiny Moleskine notebook around to jot down your thoughts while you're away.
Family can always be a source of stress, but it can be especially hard for those juggling stepchildren and being the newcomer to long-established traditions. Ann Blumenthal Jacobs, author of "Love For Grown-Ups," a guide for women who married late in life, offers the following suggestions:
-- If children are involved in your holiday plans, work that out first.
-- Schedule nothing at all for one day or one weekend over the holidays -- something magical can always happen when you and your family are spontaneous.
-- See people who make you happy.
One element common to many of these lists is my long-term obsession: sleep. We don't get enough of it even in times that aren't particularly stressful, and we're quick to sacrifice it in times that are, even though it's one of the most important tools to combat stress. There are, of course, many obstacles that prevent us from getting the sleep we need, but one that's increasingly troublesome is our growing reliance on gadgets and screens. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that a few hours of light from computer and tablet screens can lower our levels of melatonin, which helps regulate our sleep cycle, by over 20 percent. And yet, according to the National Sleep Foundation, over 90 percent of Americans are staring at a screen of some sort in the hour before going to bed.
The holidays aren't only a time to socialize and entertain and connect. At the end of the holiday season, New Year's, we have a built-in time to reflect and recharge. So this year, add a digital diet to your resolutions. Your mind and body -- as well as your family -- will thank you.
(Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is email@example.com.)(c) 2012 Arianna Huffington. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.