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Avoid Holiday Stress

The holiday season is viewed as a happy time of family gatherings, parties, sharing time with those we care about and the most festive six weeks of the year.

And it’s true that the period from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day offers all that. But it also can be a time of stress — sometimes excessive stress — with over indulgence in food and drink, strain on the bank account and, for some, serious depression.

The holidays are full of promise but also full of pitfalls, according to Dr. Michael Parmley, a board-certified internal medicine physician and primary care doctor at Washington Township Medical Foundation “It’s a time when people are more vulnerable to illness and other health issues, over-work, overspending, and disappointments when expectations are not met,” he said.

Yet, Dr. Parmley says, the holidays can be managed to reduce stress, maintain health and increase the enjoyment of the season.

A key to reducing holiday stress, he says, is to plan ahead. “This is not easy as the holidays seem to sneak up on us and then the stress begins. But, start early, look ahead and think about what creates stress for you. Is it putting on the family dinner, the gift shopping and the resultant expenses, too many party invitations, seeing difficult relatives, not enough rest?”

If you identify your stress points, then you can begin to deal with them. Dr. Parmley offers some tips for dealing with the holiday stress:

  • Don’t be afraid to turn down invitations if you need the rest — or if they are from those you don’t particularly care about. Spend your holiday time with people you enjoy. Find a way to share the family dinner responsibilities with others.
  • Suggest reducing the number and/or cost of gifts exchanged with family, co-workers or friends. You may find they, too, are worried about cost and the stress of shopping for so many. Also, consider making some of your gifts “certificates” to baby-sit or run errands for friends or family members.

Dr. Parmley says it’s important to pay particular attention to one’s health during the holidays. The best way to avoid illness is to wash your hands regularly. People are in closed environments where colds and the flu can be passed around. Make sure you are up to date on vaccinations and keep warm and rested.

Stress can increase one’s blood pressure. Exercise is an excellent stress reducer and also helps some individuals deal with depression which often occurs during the holiday season.

Many find it’s hard to exercise during the holidays. The weather can be cold and wet and time always seems to be in short supply. This is when one needs to think creatively about other opportunities to get some exercise.

“Instead of sitting around watching football, go on a walk with the family. Park further away from where you are shopping and then get some exercise by walking to and from the stores. And, if you are in cold weather, be sure to warm up before exercising outdoors,” he adds.

If you are travelling during the holidays, don’t sit for extended hours. Sitting in one position too long can result in blood clots in the legs, he explains.

“It’s difficult on an airplane to get up and walk up and down the aisle but try to do it. And, if you’re driving, stop frequently, get out and walk around. It’s really important to get your blood circulating regularly,” Dr. Parmley adds.

And, the holidays can be hard for those who have suffered a major loss. “If you are feeling depressed, it may help to get plenty of exercise and be involved with other people in activities that cheer you up. However, if you become incapable of functioning normally, consult your doctor right away.”

The final big pitfall of the holidays is over-indulging in food, drink and, for some, smoking. “I’ve had patients say: ‘I only smoke a few cigars during the holidays, not the rest of the year’. Smoking is harmful whether done regularly or once a year.”

The key to healthy eating, Dr. Parmley says, is to stick to a healthy menu. It’s hard during the holidays when so many special treats are on the table. The trick is to eat in moderation and make sure to include healthy foods like fruit and vegetables along with those occasional treats.”

To learn more about Dr. Parmley and Washington Township Medical Foundation, go online to