Holiday stress is real. After all, the season can be a complicated time. While we may look forward to winter vacations, beloved family traditions, fun parties, and extended visits with close friends, the holidays can also be a period of increased anxiety and depression. You may face family tensions. You may find your budget overextended or your schedule overloaded. Any number of factors could make the time feel more frenzied than festive. Generally speaking, meditation, relaxation therapy, and proper sleep hygiene can all be excellent stress reducers. But there are also ways to minimize holiday stress, specifically. Here are some of them.
Relax your expectations. The holidays don’t have to be perfect. You don't have to be perfect during them. Focus on the quality of the time you spend with friends and family. Don’t overemphasize materials, whether presents or decorations. Exchanging gifts should be pleasurable; try to keep things simple, meaningful, and affordable. Prioritize what matters most!
Avoid overspending. Set a budget for your holiday expenses and gift giving... and then stick to it! A lot of holiday stress has to do with financial pressure, and while you may want to be generous, you can still control your spending. Take a look at your bills, and set a realistic amount you can afford. Your holiday expenditures should not interfere with your ability to pay for essentials, and they should not result in overwhelming credit card debt that will haunt you as soon as the new year begins.
Don’t overextend. Keep your commitments realistic. What can you do without sacrificing adequate rest, exercise, and self-care? Fatigue from undersleeping and overexertion can contribute to depression and anxiety. Don’t take on such a burden that you are unable to enjoy the most important part of the season: time with loved ones and family.
Take in the good. Psychologist and author Rick Hanson calls noticing and absorbing good experiences “taking in the good," and it's an approach we often don't take when things get hectic. When you have a positive thought, experience, or emotion, take the time to savor it. Learn to dwell on the positive. Negative emotions and experiences are unavoidable, but by learning to emphasize the good in your life, you train your brain to reinforce more positive thinking patterns. In doing so, you boost your stress resilience.
Eat healthy foods and stay active. It’s normal to want to rest and indulge in treats during the holidays. Don’t overdo it, though! Take a brisk walk either before or after a big meal, and make time for exercise. Stay hydrated with pure water, and emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables. Too many sweets and rich foods can negatively impact the immune system, so stay focused on eating well as much as possible and indulging with some moderation. Better yet, learn to upgrade your traditional favorites with healthier versions: check out some truly amazing whole foods recipes here.
Take breaks. Family relationships can be complicated. If tensions arise, or if a particular family member makes things challenging, take some time for yourself. Go get some exercise, nap, or meditate. We can’t control the behaviors of others, but we can control how we respond to stress.
Acknowledge your feelings. If you have experienced past trauma, recently lost someone you love, or are feeling isolated during the holidays, it is normal to experience sadness or grief -- especially during the holiday season. You are not alone if you aren’t feeling so great during the festive season. It’s OK to cry, grieve, or opt out altogether. Take care of yourself. If you need support, reach out. Call a trusted friend, counselor, or even a crisis hotline if depression sets in. If you are feeling alone, try volunteering your time to connect with others in a positive way. You can also join a support group or take a new class to meet others with common interests and life experiences.
Unchecked holiday stress could lead to physical ailments that put a real damper on the season. The most important thing is to be mindful of how you feel so you can regulate your stress response as quickly and fully as possible. Learn to say no to anything that puts too much pressure on you. Eat well, get adequate sleep, and keep exercising. Simplify where you need to, deemphasize consumerism, and instead focus on what's most meaningful: family connectedness, generosity, self-care, and creating positive memories to carry with you into the new year. It may sound hokey, but it's an excellent way of avoiding holiday stress and preserving emotional wellness!