Stressed for the Holidays? Here's the Antidote

Too much holiday hustle and bustle can be a prescription for stress, anxiety, and even depression. Many people feel bad during what is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year.

All of the holiday fun takes a lot of work. Shopping, baking, decorating, partying, traveling – the additional activities and needs take up time and money, putting pressure on already busy schedules and limited finances. People often eat more, drink more, and sleep less. Sometimes, this season bring up feelings of loneliness, loss, and grief. It can all be too much for our overloaded psyches.

Besides dampening the joy of the season, too much stress can affect our health. According to Psychosomatic Medicine, stress can produce secondary symptoms equivalent to complications from diabetes, hypertension, or arthritis. Seventy percent of individuals who are stressed experience physical symptoms, lower productivity at work, and disruptions in their family and social lives. Unfortunately, many physicians may misdiagnose the patient's problem and prescribe medications for the symptoms, rather than recognizing the underlying problem. And of course, medications themselves can lead to unfortunate side effects.

The holidays can be a time of stress in the workplace. It's wise to be extra vigilant about safety procedures during this time and to be alert to signs of stress, exhaustion, irritability, or just excessive giddiness among employees. Holiday parties are notorious for precipitating work-related injuries and liabilities. Your employer will be looking to you to set a standard and to be their "eyes and ears" with the employees to ensure a safe holiday season on the job. So how can you manage your stress to truly enjoy this season of good will?

There are some simple—and free—remedies you can use to treat yourself to a happier state. Increasing your positive thoughts and emotions has been proven to positively influence physical and mental health. As a start, follow these two steps:

1. Savor Your Senses. Enjoy the holiday spirit through your senses of touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing. Despite possibly inclement weather, find some time to get out and enjoy nature. Listen to music. Take a nap. Eat dark chocolate. Give the mistletoe a workout and kiss more. That's right: Couples who engage in more romantic kissing are less stressed, experience higher relationship satisfaction, and even have lower cholesterol levels. Be present and enjoy the moment.

2. Practice Happiness. Instead of seeing extra holiday chores as exhausting, change your perspective. Instead of groaning, "I've got six more gifts to buy," focus on how enjoyable it will be to have your family together and how much less important the actual gifts will be. Research also has shown that altruism—the simple act of giving—can improve your sense of well-being and reduce stress.

Of course, sometimes stress is a symptom of a more serious depression or anxiety. These emotional states can be linked to medical conditions and vice versa. Be alert to signs of hopelessness and even suicide, in yourself and others, so you can get help right away.

As a physician, I understand the challenges that doctors have in diagnosing stress-related problems. Making the right diagnosis takes time and can require doctors to coordinate their care. You may have a better chance of getting an accurate diagnosis and comprehensive treatment if you seek help from doctors in multispecialty medical groups where communication between the primary care physician, specialists, and other providers is supported and encouraged. Physicians who have access to your complete medical history through shared medical records may be able to spot issues that might have gone unnoticed in the old world of paper records. Also, having access to the latest research through the use of technology helps physicians stay abreast of latest medical knowledge.

For more information on managing stress, check out my recent Forbes blogs on www.forbes.com/sites/robertpearl.

For more information on this approach to delivering health care and on accountable physician practices, visit www.accountablecare.org. and www.amga-capp.org.

Robert Pearl, M.D., is Chair of the Council of Accountable Physician Practices, CEO of the Permanente Medical Group, and CEO of the MidAtlantic Permanente Medical Group. The Council of Accountable Physician Practices (CAPP) is a coalition of visionary medical group and health systems leaders, dedicated to the concept that physicians -- working together and backed by integrated services, systems, data, and technology -- can best shape and guide the way care is delivered so that the welfare of the patient is always the primary focus.

Posted by Robert Pearl on Nov 18, 2014


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