Five Ways to Beat Stress This Holiday Season

By Barbara Ballinger, Hudson Valley Magazine

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’Tis the season for nonstop stress. Here’s how to keep the “Ho ho ho” in your holidays

The holidays are the time of year when family and friends gather for good food, good laughs, and good company. But with the endless parties and dinners, family reunions and gift exchanges, the happy holiday season can quickly turn hectic. Luckily, there are strategies to call on to cope with holiday stress. Psychologist Christine Ratto Ziegler, PhD, of the Hudson Valley Center for Cognitive Therapy in Upper Nyack, finds that advance prioritizing is useful. “Time and energy are finite resources and need to be budgeted in a similar way as you might budget your money during the holiday season. We can stretch ourselves too thin by saying ‘yes’ to every invitation we receive. Be selective and try to avoid taking on new commitments. The adage ‘Less is more’ is especially true in terms of enjoying the fewer things you choose to do,” Dr. Ziegler says.

Taking some time to get physical is also likely to lessen the stress. “Regular physical activity is consistently shown to improve mood. Think about how you can adjust your exercise routine rather than eliminate it altogether during this time,” says Dr. Ziegler says. “Also try to spend some time in natural sunlight, which can help boost your mood.” And if all else fails, says Dr. Ziegler, and you feel overwhelmed, engage in an activity that has nothing to do with holiday preparations. In addition, make a list of everything you need to do and break it down by week or day to make it more manageable.

Or, try one of these homegrown solutions to banish the humbugs:

Take a gyrotonic class

Siobhan Roberts, who opened Arch & Curl in March, offers a Gyrotonic class that makes use of a pulley tower and other specialized equipment. The practice enhances breathing, strengthens the abdomen and extends the length of the spine. “Many who sign up are hunkered down over their desks and computers and find they have lower-back challenges.” While one class may help, multiple sessions offer improved results. A private class is $85. Arch & Curl, Hudson. 845-417-3659;

Unwind with a cuppa tea

There are hundreds of tea varieties at Harney & Sons, but we suggest the “Yellow & Blue,” a mix of chamomile, lavender, and cornflower. It has a calming effect, particularly at bedtime. The tea comes in a tin of 20 sachets for $5.99 and as loose tea leaves for $22 per pound. Harney & Sons, Millerton. 518-789-2121;

Read some pretty poems

Poetry can be relaxing, inspiring, contemplative, and a window into other worlds. At the Inquiring Minds Bookstore, one employee is studying to be a poet. His suggestion? Mary Oliver’s book of poetry Dog Songs (Penguin, 2013) because “they’re lighthearted, make you feel good and are wise.” He also suggests Billy Collins’ new collection, Aimless Love (Random House, 2013). Inquiring Minds Bookstore, New Paltz & Saugerties. 845-255-8300;

Get a massage

Hand & Stone’s Swedish massage involves long, fluid strokes of muscles and tissues with pressure that varies from light to medium to firm. First-time guests can snag a 50-minute massage for $59.95. Hand & Stone, New City. 845-708-0808;

Take a cooking class

Holly Shelowitz, owner of Hudson Valley Cooking Classes, hosts a variety of classes at Warren Cutlery’s Kitchen and Bath Showroom in Rhinebeck. Classes feature recipes with fresh ingredients prepared to bring out maximum flavor, while Shelowitz gives helpful nutrition information and time-saving tips. Wannabe chefs help Shelowitz with preparations that end in a full meal or tasting. Plus, participants get to take home a recipe package. Her Delicious Desserts class on December 17 will have you whipping up lemon almond cake with lemon curd, chocolate chip cookies, spiced pumpkin pudding, and dark chocolate bark with pistachios and cherries, all naturally gluten-free and made with natural sweeteners. Each class costs $125. For more info, call 845-658-7887.