April coincides with the holiday season and stress awareness month.
While Passover is a time to get together with friends and family and reflect on the true meaning of the holiday, it is also a time when many may experience symptoms of stress and anxiety. While you are getting ready to gather with friends and family, it may be helpful to review and practice stress management techniques.
While preparing to attend a holiday dinner, you may experience changes in your breathing, blood pressure, increased depressed mood and/or anxiety, increased or decreased sleep, or the fight-or-flight response.
Why do we experience these responses during the holiday season?
Some may identify this time of year or just the occasion of a holiday dinner as a time of anxiety or induced fear. You may be fearful of the right things to say, wear and how to respond to questions about careers, school work, dating or marital status. Will you be asked if you are getting married, having a child, being promoted or just put in the position of saying the politically correct response?
Some people prepare their bodies for the “fight” response where muscles become tense and breathing is shallow. Others prefer the “flight” response where they avoid attending the holiday celebration all together.
Instead of adopting either response, why not prepare for the holiday dinner or celebrations with a positive mindset? Here are a list of stress-buster techniques and recommendations that you may find helpful in reducing stress and helping you enjoy the holidays.
Engage in deep breathing techniques that you can do before and during the holiday dinner. Take a deep breath. Put your hand on your stomach to ensure that the breath is deep. Exhale and say your own personal mantra. For example, you can say “calm.”
Set limits and learn to say “no.” At a holiday dinner you don’t need to answer every question. Prepare in advance for certain questions that may increase stress and anxiety.
Practice guided imagery. Think about an image, scene or person that makes you happy. You can either close or keep your eyes open and, while taking deep breaths, think about this image, scene or person. You may think about sitting on the beach, while the water and sun surround you. Think about the sounds of the birds chirping.
Practice progressive muscle relaxation. There are a number of apps, including Calm and Headspace, offering guided relaxation techniques. You can start at the top of your body and tighten your facial muscles and relax them; then tighten your shoulders and relax them. Then tighten your stomach muscles and relax them; tighten your hands and relax them and continue throughout your body.
Talk to a friend. It is helpful not to hold feelings in and share your concerns and fears with close friends. It is likely that others are experiencing many of the same concerns about the holiday season as you.
Do something nice for someone else. Stress is often reduced when you help another in the form of volunteering or simply helping a neighbor with a routine chore. This form of distraction usually reduces anxiety and depressed mood.
Laugh. Watch a comedy. This could be a movie or a comedy special performed by your favorite comedian. Laughing is a great remedy for stress reduction.
Exercise. Yoga, tai chi, walking or other forms or exercise of your choice have been proven to help reduce depressed mood and overall stress.
Take a break from technology. Seeing images of others celebrating, traveling, eating at new restaurants and attending parties may cause increased stress during the holiday season.
As you are sitting at your holiday dinner, take time to use your skills as you are observing the Passover seder and the symbolic foods.
Remember that Passover is a holiday to commemorate freedom. This is your opportunity to free your mind from negative mindsets and adopt new positive behaviors and ways of thinking in order to reduce stress.
Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center.