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New Ulm Medical Center

Preparing yourself to handle holiday stress

The holidays are fast approaching and it’s both a blessing and a curse. You’re looking forward to spending time with family and friends. But it also means shopping and preparing for holiday get-togethers along with your already busy schedule.

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Joe Piscatella spoke to a group of employers and managers at the annual Heart of New Ulm Worksite Summit. Piscatella says that it is not possible to eliminate stress. Stress management should be the goal.

“Even positive events like Thanksgiving and Christmas can cause a great deal of stress in people’s lives,” said Joe Piscatella, founder and president of the Institute for Fitness and Health in Gig Harbor, Wash.

“It’s all a matter of perspective,” he said. “If you think your Christmas season is going to look like a Currier and Ives print and you strive for that perfection, you’ll be disappointed. To reduce stress during the holiday season, you have to take a realistic view of events as well as the time to enjoy them.”

In October, Piscatella, author of “Prevent, Halt & Reverse Heart Disease,” spoke about stress management to New Ulm business leaders as part of Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project. The project is designed to reduce the number of heart attacks that occur in the New Ulm area through community education, health screenings and medical interventions.

Piscatella’s advice on reducing stress applies year-round, but is particularly apropos for the holiday season, he said.

Stress management

First, he explained it’s important to understand that you can’t eliminate stress. “I wish I could teach you how to get up with less stress in your life tomorrow morning. But there is no such thing as stress reduction.”

He stressed that what you can do is manage the stress in your life more effectively and efficiently. “Stress management should be your goal.”

Piscatella offered these ways to manage stress:

Get physically active. “You don’t have to run a marathon or lift tons of weight,” he said. But if you go outside and take a brisk walk or do some yoga, it will help keep stress from building up. Choose an exercise you like and do it regularly. To keep your exercise routine regular, schedule it as part of your day as you would a doctor’s appointment or lunch date. Also, find a partner. “If you make a commitment to someone else to go for a walk before work, you’ll get up at 6 a.m. to meet up even if it’s cold or raining outside.”

Turn off the TV news. “I’m not suggesting you don’t pay attention to what’s going on, but it’s best not to watch the 11 p.m. evening news and expect to be able to fall asleep after seeing all that violence,” Piscatella said. “You need to wind down, not up, before going to bed. Getting a good night’s sleep also will help reduce your stress levels and make it easier for you to face the day,” he said.

Take time out every day. Take a bath, read a book, listen to music, watch your favorite comedy. “The main thing is to be able to clear your mind,” Piscatella said. “If you don’t stop from the constant stream of deadlines and problems to be solved, you will make yourself even more stressed.” You need to take time to decompress from the events of the day.

Learn to set boundaries. Sometimes you have to say no, according to Piscatella. If you don’t say no, your boss, coworkers, family members or friends will pile more and more things on your plate. When you see that you can’t accomplish it all, you’ll feel overwhelmed. It’s better to limit what you take on than to try and do too much.

Accept help. You may want to do all the cooking for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. But you can let your guests bring sides or desserts. Let others help with the shopping and cleaning, too.

Have a good laugh. Watch a Marx Brothers film on TV. Find something funny and have a deep belly laugh whenever you can. Research shows that laughter has amazing health benefits. Laughter is known to reduce levels of stress hormones. Enjoy your family and friends and have a good time for the holidays.

Learn more

For more information about the Heart of New Ulm Project, visit