Healthy Habits Reduce Holiday Stress

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For a number of people, struggles with stress or mental health cast a shadow on the joy of the holiday season. 

4-H suggests a few stress-reducing, healthy habits for families to try this holiday season. They include being active, taking time to rest or recharge and practicing mindful eating.

There are also a variety of mental health resources in Caldwell County. Some include RHA Health Services, Jonas Hill Hospital and Clinic, New Directions, and Focus Behavioral Health. People interested in these services should contact a local clinic or speak with their primary healthcare provider.

Again, one strategy for reducing stress is spending time outside or being active. Many outdoor activities require little to no equipment. 

Doing something as simple as tossing around a frisbee, taking a walk on a local greenway or playing at a park can improve someone’s mood and be good for health.

Parents, older siblings and other community members set a good example for young people when they stay active or include younger people in these types of activities. Spending time outdoors provides families with an opportunity to spend quality time together too. Experiencing positive connections with others is beneficial for youth and adult mental health.

Caleb Schwartz poses with his craft, a card holder at a recent 4-H social. Writing letters to family or friends can help people connect with others, reflect on what they are grateful for and spread holiday cheer.

Caleb Schwartz poses with his craft, a card holder at a recent 4-H social. Writing letters to family or friends can help people connect with others, reflect on what they are grateful for and spread holiday cheer.

How common is it to feel stretched too thin this time of year? In a study conducted for the American Psychological Association, researchers found that while 8 percent of the respondents experienced a decrease in negative stress, 38 percent experienced increased levels of stress during the holiday season. 

Taking time to rest or participate in spiritual activities gives families another way to recharge from busy schedules and tense holiday situations. Those situations may include shopping, financial stress, travel, family gatherings, grieving a loss from the past year or just being out of the rhythm of normal routines. 

Journaling, prayer and meditation are a few examples. They can be restorative and stress-reducing, especially when done regularly. 

Families choosing to prioritize their mental health may benefit from identifying a dedicated quiet time after a meal or before bedtime to practice these. 4-H offers a free “Kids’ Guide to Mindfulness” online at go.ncsu.edu/mindfullness. It includes instructions for three activities and can be used with ages 5 and up.

Rest from social media and other digital media may reduce stress too. The holidays are not only an opportunity to give presents but also to be present. This can be especially impactful when caring adults share time with young people. 

Pertaining to teen mental health, 81% of the 1,516 teen respondents in a recent National 4-H Council survey said, “It’s time for Americans to talk more openly and honestly about mental health issues in this country.” 

Additionally, they reported feeling more peer pressure to hide their feelings than to drink alcohol or do drugs.

Again, experiences together, however simple and inexpensive, can often make a positive impact on young people.

Another strategy to consider during the holiday season is eating in moderation and making thoughtful food choices. Texas A&M’s Extension Service provides a few tips for how holiday recipes may be modified. 

Two 4-H members pose with their decorated cookies at the Holiday Crafts event in December 2021.

Two 4-H members pose with their decorated cookies at the Holiday Crafts event in December 2021. Rather than feeling negative about enjoying holiday treats, people should practice enjoying them in moderation.

One tip is to reduce how much sugar or added fats, like butter, are added to our favorite holiday dishes. When making modifications, they also suggest cooks crank up the flavor by adding seasonings, like cinnamon, vanilla or herbs.

Young people, who are on break from school and have less of a routine, may be prone to poor eating habits during this season. By providing healthy food options as snacks and with meals, they can be encouraged to make healthy decisions. Furthermore, it helps when they see good choices modeled for them.

When done in combination, being active, taking time to rest and making mindful eating choices form a great strategy to reduce holiday stress. In the same way, they help set families up for success with healthy habits in the new year. 

Caldwell County 4-H is a member agency of United Way, and it enthusiastically supports its partnerships. Learn more about Caldwell County 4-H programs online at caldwell.ces.ncsu.edu.

Extension employees pose in front of a tree in downtown Lenoir.

Extension employees pose in front of a tree in downtown Lenoir. N.C. Cooperative Extension wishes you a happy holiday season!