The 3 “Must Have” Gifts to Give & Receive this Holiday Season Guaranteed to Reduce Your Stress

#1 Give Kids the Gift of Certainty. According to the the annual American Psychological Association (APA) Study, Stress in America (released 11/3/09) parents and kids had a very different perspectives on how our kids are experiencing stress. Adults and young people ages 8 -17 years old were surveyed. 63% of parents said their children had little or no stress. In reality only 31% of young people reported little or no stress.

#1 Give Kids the Gift of Certainty. According to the the annual American Psychological Association (APA) Study, Stress in America (released 11/3/09) parents and kids had a very different perspectives on how our kids are experiencing stress. Adults and young people ages 8 -17 years old were surveyed. 63% of parents said their children had little or no stress. In reality only 31% of young people reported little or no stress. As for sources of stress; of the young people surveyed; 44% said doing well in school was a source of stress, 30% worry about the family having enough money, and 8% said the relationships with their parents were source of stress.


Undoubtedly there is value in young people having age appropriate recognition and appreciation of family demands and challenges. But the truth is young people today have unprecedented access to the barrage of real time potentially troubling events. Kids often are the collateral damage when parents have conflicts. They hear you when you talk about your life– and — when you interpret “breaking news” like the recent tragedy at Fort Hood. Just because they’re texting doesn’t mean they’re not listening in on our conversations. Our kids can experience the anxiety, worry, and fear that we adults experience; at school, at home, and perhaps even in the so-called ‘safe’ environments we create for them for afternoon extracurricular and weekend activities. And of course don’t forget downloadable episodes of tween & teen soap operas creating and perpetuating disturbing ‘realities’, myths and expectations of a life grounded in perpetual happiness, minimal work and lack of boredom.

This holiday season as you plan for holidays include a specific plan for spending extra non structured time with the children in your life. Listen and understand what’s worrying them and why.

Finally, let the children in your life know there is certainty in your love for them and your efforts to make the world a better place for their future. For details on the APA study go to:


#2 Give Yourself the Gift of Life. Did you know that more people died on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day than any other day of the year? It’s true. According to the American Heart Association latest statistics, approximately 2400 people a day die of coronary artery disease in the United States. Seasonal variation in the incidence of myocardial infarction and cardiac death has been long established. The mechanisms underlying this variation which holds true in both colder than normal climates is not fully understood. But Dr. David Phillips and his team of researchers at University of California at San Diego studied US cardiac daily deaths specifically to answer the following questions; Is there a difference between the effect of the winter holidays that is separate from the effect of winter weather? If there is a holiday peak with this peak be linked to something that is potentially preventable?

A total of 53 million deaths were examined over a 28 year period (1978-2001). Here is what they found. There are two discrete peaks in cardiac death during the holidays— one for Christmas and one for New Year’s day. They observe this holiday peak nationwide. Specifically there are 5% more deaths or what they termed excess deaths.  in 2009 this would translate into approximately 120 excess deaths on Christmas and New Years this year. Dr. Phillips describes the holidays as a “risk factor for death”. The peak is distinct from the winter peak. This excess mortality is growing proportionately larger over time.


There is no clear single answer as to why this phenomenon exits. But there are some things you can act on to reduce your risk or the risk of someone you love. In general during the holidays we make an abrupt change in our pattern of eating drinking exercising working and travel. Here are some specific steps you can take:


  • Don’t Delay in Seeking Care. If you or your family members have risk for coronary disease or if you have known coronary disease and you feel that you are experiencing chest discomfort, shortness of breath, or other symptoms that are related to your heart, Don’t delay. You will not be disrupting the family event by getting to an emergency department. This is simple. If you’re traveling and you have an abnormal EKG, carry it with you in case you need to make that trip to the emergency department.
  • Moderation. Overindulgence in your intake of food, salt, fat, and alcohol can all lead to triggering of a cardiac event. Alcohol has a direct toxic affect on the heart. Alcohols can trigger atrial fibrillation. Heavy fatty meals may make the blood more likely to clot, and can inhibit the responsiveness of your blood vessels. According to some researchers, meals high in carbohydrates can increase in your heart rate and the release of catecholamines. if you’re on any dietary restrictions because of pre-existing heart disease or kidney disease please monitor what you eat and continue to follow her usual self care routine.
  • Respiratory problems. Respiratory infections such as the common cold, bronchitis, or COPD are very common during the winter months. If you are weakened by respiratory diseases you will be more susceptible to adverse affects of coronary disease. Be mindful of particular matter generated from wood burning fireplace is. Consult with your doctor as to whether it’s appropriate for you to receive a pneumonia or influenza vaccine.
  • Emotional Stress. Evidence is emerging that emotional stress is an independent risk factor for heart disease of a magnitude similar to elevated cholesterol. Emotional stress & anger can trigger a variety of cardiac events including sudden death. Arguments with family members are a leading cause of anger related triggers of cardiac events. Here are some specific suggestions to deal with potential stress of the holidays. Identify what pushes your buttons–Develop a plan now.


Here are some thoughts about how to stay in your BestStress Zone while dealing effectively with the most common emotional stressors this time of year; People, Finances and Time.


  • People. Regardless of planning, stress is inevitable. A more reasonable goal for your sanity is to plan to transform potentially harmful reactions to what happens at family gatherings into healthy responses. Re-think how you Think. When you are stressed do what I call mind-shifting.  This will help guide your accurate thinking process, not just positive thinking. Take a hard look at the reality of ‘situations’ when they arise. Consider if your reaction is an automatic negative thoughts (ANT) creeping up based on old ideas or notions of roles. Another important mind-shift is to simply avoid the words ‘should’ or ‘must’. Instead use the word ‘prefer’. Next, this holiday season consider giving the gift of Forgiveness. Forgive yourself and forgive others. Set a goal to repair broken relationships this holiday season. Families change and grow as do traditions. Be open to your idea of ‘roles’ of various people in your family … including yours.
  • Finances. This may be a good year to relish what you have and decide on limits for spending. Establish a budget and stick to it. Reach a consensus on the ‘value’ of not overspending, i.e. peace of mind, spring break, a dent in credit card debt, college fund, or more basic-paying the mortgage or rent! Time affluence as much more sustaining value than monetary affluence.
  • Time. Recognize and accept that they’re only 24 hours a day. if your mind continually tells you that you’re running out of time you will in fact— run out of the ultimate time. Schedule sleep– at least seven hours. This will help with your resilience. Delegate and enlist the help of family members with tasks. Remember to put aside perfect. Avoid overload by simply not using the words should or must. Approach your planning for the holidays and the holidays themselves by describing what you prefer. It’s okay to stick to a schedule –and– be flexible. And of course– practice saying “no”.



#3 Give Positive Emotions. An interesting phenomenon occurs during the holiday season. We all know it. It’s particularly evident when you are in a large cosmopolitan areas like New York city. Strangers actually make eye contact, sometimes exchange a holiday greeting and even smile! You experience positive emotions!  What if you were to make a commitment to routinely generate positive emotions for yourself and others through-out the year?

In times of expected uncertainty you can lose track of ‘reality’. Sometimes in the midst of chaos we need to step back and take a look at the big picture. In addtion to feeling good, positive emotions help you see the big picture. Here’s the how and why.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson positive psychologist and researcher who is the principal investigator of the positive emotions and psychophysiology lab at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill University. She developed the Broaden & Build Theory which unequivocally demonstrates tangible value of regularly experiencing positive emotions. Compared to neutral and negative states, positive emotions broaden the scope of your attention and expand the range of your ideas about possible actions– it allows you a chance to see the big picture. Short-term and ‘in the moment’ positive emotions can actually neutralize the harmful effects of jolts of adrenaline released during during anger, hostility ,and other negative emotional states. Fredrickson has demonstrated long-term positive emotions prevent depression built optimism and resilience. The broad mindset that accompanies positive emotions can help you discover and build new resources and skills; social, intellectual and psychological.

What’s important to know is that although the experience of a positive emotion may be transient the benefits are long-lasting and transformative. if you take time to consciously experience positive emotions routinely. when ‘stuff’ happens your response will allow you to spiral upwards instead of downwards in the face of demands and challenges.

And there’s more. What’s good for one individual, can also be good for organizations. Research has demonstrated that organizational transformation occurs when leaders express positive emotions. The effect will reverberate through organizational members and to customers. Instead of just repeating the montra of ‘excellence’–when leaders expressed positivity when excellence was observed the teams enjoyed the benefits of higher levels of performance and individual satisfaction. Then inside the organization positive emotions can go’viral’. Positive emotions link people in organizations through interpersonal events that have very personal meanings.

Another gift to consider giving is my new book which launched last week, Optimal Stress: Living in Your BestStress Zone. (John Wiley & Sons.)  Available now at your favorite bookseller or through my website:


Happy Holidays!

Carol Scott, MD