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JP Grace: Holidays are here: Let the stress begin!

Dec. 03, 2012 @ 11:00 PM

"Busyness." That was the one-word answer to a question I'd asked at a family Thanksgiving gathering, namely: "What's the major cause of stress in our lives today?"

The answer came from my sister-in-law Celeste Stoops, who'd arrived at our place from her home in Kansas City, Kan., along with her husband Morris and young-adult children, Patrick, Celeste and Genna.

And right now, during the holiday season leading up to Christmas and New Year's, seems to be the high point for rushing about. We're shopping for gifts, planning parties and dinners, and still trying to get all the other "normal" activities in: work, school, kids' sports and extracurriculars, as traffic builds, tempers fray and relationships are tested.

Another source of stress, however, also comes from worries about money and bills, as we put Christmas shopping on credit cards that will pile our debt higher.

In our already weight-challenged American society, the season presents the ubiquitous challenge of sugary snacks and drinks. We seem to consume too much of this stuff anyway, but now we find we are doubling down.

Sleep comes only with the coaxing of pharmaceutical "aids," both prescription and nonprescription pills, to calm jangled nerves.

We may find ourselves rushing around more, worrying more, eating more, scarfing down more pills -- and sleeping even more uneasily. All at once.

What's to be done?

First, a few things to check:

Blood pressure. A sure indicator of being overstressed if it starts heading for the upper reaches. Pharmacies often have blood pressure testing machines right at the counter. A quarter or two and you can keep up with what's happening inside your body.

Mood. Here, your mate or your children or a best friend can help. Ask "Do I seem more jittery than usual?" "Am I coming across as irritable or rude?" Antidote: quiet time in meditation and prayer.

Distractedness. Pay attention to how you are driving. You should have a fairly good sense of how you drive in normal times. Do you find yourself pushing past your normal speed, your normal courtesy in making turns; are you rushing through lights fading from yellow to red?

If so, tell yourself, "OK, Kiddo, we'll get there. Just slow down."

Make to-do lists. I know, I know, many of you already do this. But in the rushabout weeks between now and New Year's, such lists are particularly useful. And checking things off as you do them is a real stress reliever.

Come up with a dollar figure for your total gift buying, whether you're going to pay cash or put it on credit cards, or a little of both. Tailor your purchases to fit in with your pre-established limit.

Don't forget the costs of shipping! Adding too many hundreds of dollars to your already groaning credit-card debt is definitely NOT the way to "stress down."

Real discipline is the only way to curb your holiday eating habits and see to it that your 10, 20 or 30 pounds extra don't suddenly become 15, 25, or 35 pounds -- or worse -- to the plus side. When you know there's a big party or family feast in the offing, trim your calories in the days before.

And plan to exercise those party calories off.

Long walks in the crisp evening air can be a wonderful tonic.

Also -- and I realize it's more money out the door -- if you haven't discovered the relaxing bodily renovation of a professional massage, treat yourself. A great investment in stress management.

John Patrick Grace formerly was a health editor for The Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record. He lives in eastern Cabell county and teaches The Life Writing Class. His email is publishersplace@gmail.com.

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