VA Connecticut Healthcare System
Though dealing with stress is nothing new to most of us, the holidays can often be the most stress filled time of the year. Pressure to get the perfect gift, prepare the best meals, entertain flawlessly and look great while doing all of this can make a joyful season one you can’t wait to come to an end.
The VA National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention offers these tips on managing stress. While not specific to the holiday season, these tips can help you now and in the months to come.
If you are having difficulty coping with life's demands, we call this "stress." A life without some stress would be boring. Most of us like some challenges, but too much stress creates problems.
People who are overly stressed often report difficulty concentrating, feelings of worry and fear, a sense that the body is wound up (for example, tense muscles, sweaty palms, and a pounding heart), irritability with others, or exhaustion. Too much stress over a long period of time can put your health at risk.
Stress Management Suggestions
Learn problem solving skills! They can improve your ability to cope. Your VA may offer a class on problem solving skills. There is also a web-based problem-solving program call Moving Forward that is available to you at:http://www.veterantraining.va.gov/movingforward/index.asp.
Take a brisk walk or engage in other physically demanding activities. This may reduce your stress. Regular physical activity is best. See the Be Physically Active Handout.
Learning relaxation and mindfulness skills can help you manage stress. Daily relaxation strategies may protect you from the impact of stress on your body. You can find self-help books on relaxation at libraries and book stores. Your health care team may offer relaxation or mindfulness training, or you can use the NCP Manage Stress Workbook. In addition, relaxation recordings can be very helpful. There are links to relaxation recordings in the column to the right and on mobile apps such as "PTSD Coach" and "Breathe2Relax", available at https://mobile.va.gov/appstore
Speak up in respectful ways. Sharing thoughts and feelings in an assertive and respectful manner can sometimes help buffer stress. Ask your health care team for guidance.
List what needs to get done, make plans for addressing items, and stick to the plan. There are several self-help books on time management at libraries and book stores.
Stress is often associated with negative, self-critical thinking. Focus your attention on positive thoughts about yourself, your accomplishments, things you feel proud of or grateful for, etc. It can help to list 3-5 things you feel grateful for each day.
Make time for fun. Plan regular, enjoyable activities and see if this reduces your stress. The Pleasant Activities Tip Sheet includes ideas for you to consider.
If you have questions about how to make healthy living changes, please talk with your VA health care team.
Want to Know More?
When the demands of life are greater than our ability to cope with the demands, this state is commonly called stress. Although the experience of stress varies from one individual to another, stress often affects attention, thoughts, brain activity, and emotion; parts of the body regulated by the autonomic nervous system (heart rate, breathing, palmar sweat, blood pressure, digestion); and the muscular system (typically resulting in muscle tension, and either increased or decreased movement); and hormones (cortisol, norepinephrine, and growth hormone). When stress is chronic, and the body remains in high gear, it can become problematic.
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- Hunter, CL et al. Integrated Behavioral Health in Primary Care: Step-by-Step Guidance for Assessment and Intervention. Washington: APA;2009.
- Davis, M., Eshelman, E.R. & McKay, M. The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, Oakland: New Harbinger;2008.
- Bourne, E. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Oakland: New Harbinger;2010.
- Manage Stress Patient Handout
- Manage Stress Workbook
- VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guidelines for PTSD
- VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guidelines for Depression
- Additional Content
- Relaxation recording
- Mindfulness Meditation Recordings: