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Create a Stress Coping Plan this Holiday Season

The holiday season is a time to spend with family and friends. It’s a time to celebrate long-lived traditions and introduce new ones. The holidays can also be a time when we experience numerous stressors such as doing too much and spending too much, experiencing too much togetherness, or not enough togetherness. It’s also a time when daylight hours are short and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can affect many during this time of year.

Stress causes the brain to release the stress hormone cortisol, often named the ‘public enemy number one’ because it fogs our thinking, lowers our immunity, helps us gain extra unwanted weight and can bring on chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease. When we’re experiencing stress, we are unable to think clearly and we’re unaware that our thinking is foggy, predisposing us to making poor decisions.

The positive side of holiday stress is that it is predictable and we can pre-plan to manage and cope with our stress before it starts. Creating a coping plan is an effective way for us to pre-plan how we are going to maintain our well-being through challenging times, and focus our energy and attention on the positive aspects of our lives.

The process of creating the plan takes little time and requires us to identify our worst stressors as a starting point. Then the plan guides us to think of strategies and supports that we can use to tackle the problems and ways that can help to reduce the ill effects of the stress on our body and mind.

Easy Steps to Creating a Coping Plan

  1. Make a list of the most stressful things in your life right now.
  2. Identify and record the behaviours, thoughts, feelings, and physical signs that you experience when you are heading into your most stressful situations.
  3. List the healthy things you can do when you are stressed or sad and do more of them.
  4. List the unhealthy things that you turn to when you are stressed or sad and avoid them.
  5. Think of how others around you can help to reduce your stress.
  6. Identify and write the things that are not helpful to you when you experience stress.
  7. Then choose someone you trust that you can call when you need support and keep their number with you.
  8. Then list three or more things you can do that can lead to you becoming healthier.

The finished product is a reflective document of your thinking that clearly identifies your stressors, your journey through reacting to and working to manage these stressors, and who you can reach out to for help when you most need it.

Healthy ways that are commonly included in coping plans include:

  • Using aromatherapy – natural essential oils in baths, massages and in lighted scents can increase feelings of well-being and provide stress relief. For example, certain citrus and flower fragrances have been found to increase the level of norepinephrine, a hormone associated with mood.
  • Going for regular walks or following an exercise routine.
  • Listening to music.
  • Practicing deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and creative visualization.
  • Practicing mindfulness.
  • Writing down worries and problems in a journal.