Song lyrics and greeting cards will remind you that the holidays are the perfect time to embrace the joy and celebrate your blessings. And for lots of good reasons: your festive feasts, your quirky traditions, the sparks of laughter that happen when someone brings up the time Gramps trotted in for a hamstring-straining touchdown during your backyard bonanza.
Despite all the holiday-spirit goodness that’s worth celebrating, we also know that this time of year can bring about the brain-frazzling gifts of stress, tension, anxiety, sadness, and a feeling that you’re this close to rocketing a forkful of mashed potatoes across the table at Uncle Ernest.
It’s a complex time of year for so many, says Radley Griffin, M.D., Griffin Concierge Medical (GCM) Founder and CEO. Gathering as families can mean that—in addition to all the good things that come with that—the issues, traumas, and unspoken conflicts will inevitably bubble up. Research also shows that depression increases around the holidays, often stemming from loneliness or missing lost loved ones.
“Family is so important, and I’m so grateful for mine,” he says. “Just as the holidays allow time for the reflection on those who are here, they also allow reflection on those who are no longer here. It conjures up different things for different folks.”
At GCM, we’re dedicated to really knowing about your lives, so that we can help identify when something doesn’t feel quite right and then talk you through strategies to cope with life’s mental bumps. Oftentimes, you may not even realize that there are more symptoms to stress than just the fact that your brain may feel like cookie-batter mush, but it can also manifest itself in other symptoms like sweaty palms, a racing heart, or a pit in your stomach.
Ultimately, though, stress management is something that we can address. Learning what techniques help you can keep the negative effects of stress from turning into larger health problems.
Now, we should be clear that you can’t bubble-bath your way to stress-free living, but you can take steps to mitigate the negative effects of chronic stress, like overeating, sleep disturbances, and other serious problems.
For starters, think of stress management like this: One, try to remember that stress could have a positive role in your life, as it’s often what helps us meet deadlines, solve problems, and think creatively. Two, you do have the power to mitigate the stress and anxiety you do feel. By pumping your biological brakes, you’re giving your entire system a chance to reset and become resilient enough to face whatever form your Uncle Ernest comes in.
Here are some of our favorite ways to manage stress:
We live in a go-go-go world, and it doesn’t seem to ever stop-stop-stop. The downside of working at quadruple speed is that we may not even know how much we’re beating up our bodies and minds. “It’s challenging for people sometimes to recognize the stress they’re under until they disengage from stress,” Dr. Griffin says.
While we all want to feel satisfied with our professions and families, we need to have some sense of balance to make sure we can still not only perform well, but also have meaningful engagement in our lives outside of our typical activities.
Stress often comes from this sense of “putting the pedal to the metal, revving the engine, and then stopping. Maybe we don’t have to do that,” Dr. Griffin says. “Maybe we can be on the journey, make some pit stops, and take a break.”
Instead of thinking of stopping and going, try to frame stress management as an intentional pushing of your pause button.
That can take any form you like: vacations, morning meditation, evening walks, facials, massages, regular exercise, anything that gives your brain a chance to stop playing neurological pinball with every issue you need to tackle.
Dr. Griffin prefers a rigorous round of working out to combat daily stress. “When I’m exercising and really into it, I’m not thinking about anything else,” Dr. Griffin says. “The opportunity to focus on one’s self and one’s body is a win-win.” That’s because you’re not only building physical strength and endurance, but you’re also detaching yourself momentarily from whatever troubles you’re having in your life.
Find What Jazzes You—Then Keep Doing It
One of the things Dr. Griffin has always loved is fishing (he used to regularly travel to Cedar Key to fish when he was at the University of Florida).
“All of the senses are engaged—to feel the slight tug on the line, to know you have a fish you really can’t think about much else,” he says, so it’s a real way to give his mind some space away from life’s worries.
“Through COVID, a lot of us accumulated a lot of things—children, dogs—we got a covid dog,” Dr. Griffin says. “I also came out with a COVID kayak—a fishing kayak.”
And he loves it.
Just as work takes intention, not working also does. That’s why it’s crucial to find something you love—and engage in that activity regularly. It can give you joy, improve your clarity, help your brain stop obsessing over smaller troubles, and add layers of meaning to your life.
“I love getting out on the water. It’s so beautiful,” Dr. Griffin says. “Especially in a fishing kayak, there’s a lot of moving parts and so it takes my full attention. No, I don’t do it enough, and yes, I do need to engage more often.”
Regular visits with a therapist or executive coach can also help you decompress, Dr. Griffin says. In sports, a coach doesn’t meet with a team just once a game; the team is coached throughout—to help players adapt to unpredictable circumstances. A coach or therapist for personal challenges can do the same for you—helping you at many stages in your journey.
Just the act of articulating your problems seems to help relieve some feelings of stress and tension. Of course, you can also talk it out with friends, mentors, or others you trust. The bigger point: When you’re overly stressed, you’re like a shaken-up bottle of champagne. Keep all your problems inside, and eventually, the pressure is going to cause you to blow your top.
“It’s so important for us as adults to really incorporate these release valves along the way,” Dr. Griffin says.
In addition, we need to have open and honest conversations with people we have issues with—co-workers, spouses, children, bosses, anyone. Talking—and expressing your thoughts—helps ease some of our anxiety.
“These sticky conversations are really challenging,” Dr. Griffin says. “I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.” But when he does have those chats, it always feels a lot better—usually for both parties. It’s the act of talking—and expressing concerns respectfully—that serves as the first step to easing the built-up tension.
Dr. Griffin cites the Seinfeld episode in which George is brutally honest—and everything ends up turning his way. What a great lesson: Instead of suppressing emotions, let them out. “It’s truly a relief. If we can recognize what builds the pressure and what releases the energy,” he says, “we can try to repeat it as much as we can.”