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Holiday stress relief tips

It’s the most wonderful – but stressful – time of the year.

With Christmas gift shopping, frequent family get-togethers and other holiday-themed expectations throughout December, the increased stress many people feel can outweigh any sense of festive joy. But there are ways to counter that increased stress – whether it’s practicing yoga, receiving a massage or learning to say no to attending certain holiday events.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) said the financial impact of the season is one of the biggest causes of holiday stress.

"This year, set a budget," an AHS release stated. "It's OK to tell your child that a certain toy costs too much."

Personal gifts and connecting with loved ones can often be the most cherished gifts. Focus on traditions that make the season special for you and your family instead of the commercialization of Christmas, and set and stick to a budget for the gift you do buy, suggests AHS.

"You can show love and caring with any gift that is meaningful and personal," AHS said. "It doesn't have to cost a lot. Or use words instead of an expensive gift to let people know how important they are to you. Make a phone call or write a note and share your feelings."

Another way to limit feeling overwhelmed is to ask for help with your to-do list, according to AHS.

"Spend time with friends and family while you share tasks like decorating, wrapping gifts and preparing the holiday meal," the release stated.

Exercising self-care and paying attention to your own needs can also go a long way to reduce stress throughout the year, according to AHS, but is especially important during the holidays.

Elaine Sampson, the owner of Sole Balance Yoga in East Chestermere, said practicing yoga can reduce stress in that it brings a sense of calm to the mind, body and spirit. While there are many physical benefits to the activity – increased flexibility and strength, lower blood pressure and better sleeping, for example – she said yoga can help mentally as well, through its controlled-breath and meditative aspects.

“Yoga means to unite, so I often say in class that it brings balance to your world with breath, movement and mindfulness,” she said. “That will help during this busy, busy time. Finding the alignment of the body will also bring that strength and relaxation. The postures are a huge part of it as well, but you also need the breath.”

Sampson said her home-based studio typically sees a drop in attendance in December, and she reckons people’s holiday commitments are a reason for that decline.

“Throughout the year, we all carry a little stress, but with Christmas, there are so many extra things – family coming from out of town, getting together, all the Christmas functions and preparations – that can really add to the stress,” she said.

Another physical act that can decrease stress at this time of year is getting a massage. According to Maureen De Sosa-Kalas, the owner of MassageWorks Cochrane and Chiropractic Care, stress manifests in physical ways, whether it’s by having muscles tensing up or the formation of poor postural habits. The act of getting a massage can counter those symptoms, she said.

“Massage is essentially the manipulation of the soft tissue, muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons,” she said. “It does complement a lot of traditional medicine, and it does treat a lot of different conditions – anxiety, digestive disorders, fibromyalgia, insomnia and anything sports-injury related.”

A benefit of massage that many people might not know, according to De Sosa-Kalas, is that it increases a person’s white blood cell count, which improves their immune system.

“Also, it feels good when you get a massage,” she said.

While she said her clinic is busy year-round, De Sosa-Kalas noted December is one of the busiest months of the year, with a 40 per cent increase in clientele compared to November.

“It’s such a stressful time,” she said. “Everyone needs to get all the presents done, all the baking and cooking and needing to be somewhere.

“There’s a lot of hustle and bustle, and we have a lot of parties and commitments. But it’s OK to say no – you don’t have to go to every party out there. Saying no is good, too, because that’s part of taking care of yourself.”

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