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The New You: Managing holiday stress

The holidays are a magical time of year - but let's be honest, they can be pretty stressful too

Ah, the holidays. The Christmas trees…the Christmas songs…and the holiday dinner. 

For some, it's all pretty perfect. But for many of us, the holidays can be uniquely stressful. 

"Holidays as an adult are very different than they are being a child. As an adult you have the responsibility of making the Christmas of living up to people’s expectation. There’s the roller coaster of emotions. There’s grief and lost because of death perhaps, divorce, distance, different relationships with family," said Jane Pernotto Ehrman, a Behavioral Health Specialist with the Cleveland Clinic.

And this year – we have added the stress of dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. If you are feeling overwhelmed, Jane says, you’re not alone.

"It is something we haven’t ever experienced before around the world. It is the first pandemic that has been worldwide. There’s been a huge change in the workforce. People have lost their jobs," she said.

You may not realize it – but stress directly impacts both your mental and physical health. Jane says you may feel physical sensations, stemming from stress and anxiety.

"You shallow breathe. You hold your breath to get ahold of you emotions. Your vocal chord get tight," she explained. "Muscles get tight. Your blood pressure goes up. Your heart rate goes up."

And then there are changes in behavior that may not be as noticeable.

"We start to second guess ourselves. We may have difficulty with focus and concentration. We may feel very burdened and heavy hearted."

And believe it or not, you’re also more likely to catch a cold because stress hormones prevent your immune system from functioning normally.

But Jane says you can make it through this following a few simple steps.  

'First thing I tell people to do is breathe because when you’re paying attention to breathing… you’re oxygenating your brain and your body."

She also suggests asking yourself why you’re stressed.

"Recognize what are you feeling? What are the emotions connected to? What are they connected to?"

And her personal secret to remaining stress free involves thinking about everything she is grateful for.

"However awful things may be in our lives, for most of us we have clean water, we have food in the refrigerator, we have a roof over our heads."

Jane says she keeps a "3 Good Things" notebook next to her bed.

"And before I go to bed, I write down 3 good things."

Jane says studies have shown by writing down what we are grateful for, it will make you feel happier. In one study, people said that they were able to sleep better as a result because they changed their focus.

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Editor's Note: The below story aired on December 14, 2020