On a bitterly cold Thursday, just two weeks before Christmas Eve, Bruce Rinehart was fighting off the effects of too little sleep and too much stress.
He'd been up since 4:30 a.m. when one of his sons started throwing up again, followed shortly by his second son " both victims of a stomach ailment that hit the night before. From 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. the next morning, Rinehart was up and down with his children while doing laundry on and off between sicknesses.
On top of that, he had a restaurant to run and Christmas parties to plan for.
"I've had two hours of sleep this morning, then I had to run to the store to get medicine and soup for the boys, and then I came here to the restaurant," said Rinehart, the owner of Rococo Restaurant & Fine Wine. "I'll be here late. It never stops, especially in a restaurant. I'll go to 11 or 12 at night, get home, relax for an hour, sleep and do it again."
But the one thing he does each night is take time to relax. He said he pours a nice glass of wine, curls up on the couch and either reads or watches television. Even if he has to miss out on an extra hour of sleep, he makes it a point to spend at least 60 minutes unwinding before bed.
"Everyone needs some down time, time for themselves," he said.
A new study from L.C. Williams and Associates suggests Rinehart is right. The research division of the Chicago-based company recently surveyed primary care physicians for the furniture maker La-Z-Boy. According to the results, 94 percent of the 300 polled doctors say daily relaxation at home, in conjunction with other healthy behaviors, is important to reduce stress.
Coupled with the American Psychological Association's recent claim that more than 80 percent of Americans anticipate a stressful holiday season this year, relaxation may be necessary to not only surviving the holidays, but dealing with stress all year long.
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can have detrimental effects on not just the mind, but the body as well. Typical holiday stress can create fatigue, headaches, excessive drinking, overeating and insomnia.
Yet finding time to relax may not be as easy as it sounds.
"Relaxation is extremely important, even if it's just five minutes," said Dr. Brian Lamkin of Lamkin Clinic. "Ideally, 30 minutes to an hour is better, but you should take at least five minutes to reset."
For the past 100 years, the same technology that has made life easier has also made life more complex.
"People can do so much more in a day because of computers and technology, but it can be stressful," Lamkin said. "Of course, the holidays add more stress with travel, Christmas parties, shopping, financial strain and being exposed to more viruses. It all builds up."
Rinehart doesn't worry too much about the holidays. He and his wife made a pact to use them to enjoy spending rare time together, as opposed to worrying about buying gifts or throwing parties.
"We don't go crazy during Christmas," he said. "We use this time to do family things together. It's all about spending time with each other, cooking great food and relaxing."
To ease the stress that may put a damper on the season, Susan Beam, chaplain and manager of pastoral care at Norman Regional Health System, recommends not getting too caught up in unrealistic expectations.
"It's so easy to overdo this time of the year, again because of the high expectations of how we think it should be, which only sets us up for disappointment when the reality falls short," Beam said. "Also, the holidays can often be a reminder of times past, when parents, grandparents or other loved ones were still with us.This can bring on a sense of sadness in remembering those we have lost and longing for the way things used to be."
Her advice: Less is best.
"A quiet, festive gathering with hot chocolate and homemade cookies or an outing to see the lights can be meaningful and memorable for everyone," Beam said.
"If you have a large, extended family, drawing names rather than trying to get gifts for everyone can reduce the financial strain and time spent shopping. Siblings or other family members could go in together to buy one nice gift for a parent or grandparent." -Heide Brandes