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How to Handle Holiday Stress

The holiday season can often bring more stress than joy. Taking care of your body, calendar, and wallet can help beat the blues and other stress-related health problems, experts say.

Family feuds, overspending, and travel are anything but peaceful. A full schedule can cut into time for healthy activities like sleep and exercise. Meanwhile, the holidays without a loved one can feel lonely and sad.

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Along with these stresses, the holidays often serve up additional alcoholic drinks and second helpings of food. Both overeating and drinking increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, disrupt sleep, and add extra pounds.

Scientists have found that stress can be bad for your health, regardless of the time of year. Studies have shown that stresses from marital spats slow down the healing process of a wound. Short-term psychological stress has also been connected to high levels of plaque and poor oral hygiene, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. Researchers have observed stress in the brain, too.

To avoid stress during the holidays, follow these guidelines from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Turn down an invitation or two. Spend quality time with friends and family, but don't overbook your social calendar.
  • Eat a healthy snack before a holiday party, which will help you eat fewer cookies at the party.
  • Take time out of your busy schedule for yourself, try releasing tension with a walk, fresh air, or music.
  • Plan accordingly. Arrive at the airport early, buy presents ahead of time, and shop for groceries with menus in mind.
  • Set a budget for gifts and other spending.
  • Expect less. No one's holiday can be as picture perfect as the books and movies of the season.
  • Keep up the good work and maintain your healthy habits.
  • Ask for help, when planning a get-to-gether or when you're feeling down.
  • Acknowlegde your feelings, whether they be sad or joyous.
  • Make small, specific New Year's resolutions and set yourself up to attain those goals.
  • Accept family members for who they are and save heated discussions for another occasion.
  • Seek professional help if you think you may be suffering from depression.
Corey Binns lives in Northern California and writes about science, health, parenting, and social change. In addition to writing for Live Science, she's contributed to publications including Popular Science,, Scholastic, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review as well as others. She's also produced stories for NPR’s Science Friday and Sundance Channel. She studied biology at Brown University and earned a Master's degree in science journalism from NYU. The Association of Health Care Journalists named her a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Journalism Fellow in 2009. She has chased tornadoes and lived to tell the tale.