Ready or not, the holidays are upon us. For many, “Tis the season to be jolly,” but for others, “Bah, humbug.” The difference in mood could depend on your expectations for the season and how you respond to holiday stress.
So, tell me… where do you fall on the holiday mood scale: Cindy Lou Who, the Grinch, or somewhere in between?
Why Managing Stress Matters
Although many people anticipate the festivities and time off with family and friends, they also say the holidays are much more stressful than other times of the year. This can result in “festive stress.” Yes, it’s a real thing, with nearly a third of Americans describing the season as frantic and almost everyone admitting to feeling some added pressure over the holidays. There are many reasons for this stress, but everyday stressors seem to be compounded by additional responsibilities that occur this time of year—including money and time constraints.
You may be thinking that holiday stress is just a fact of life and we need to learn to live with it. Of course, you’re right. But it’s easy to overlook the importance of managing these pressures. If left unchecked, they can create a long-lasting impact on our minds and bodies.
What Causes Festive Stress
Happiness, relaxation, celebration, family, and friends. What’s not to like? But the holidays rarely come together in the way we imagine. Sometimes, unwelcome guests like depression, loneliness, fatigue, and anger stop by for a visit, especially if there’s been a recent loss or traumatic event. And these emotions may intensify when compared with the joy others seem to be feeling.
Whatever the factors contributing to your stress, they can take a toll on you if you don’t manage it.
How to Move from Humbug to Jolly
Consider the source. It may seem obvious, but what could be the cause? Is it a recent change in your life? Unrealistic expectations? Are you taking care of others’ needs at the expense of your own? Is it overspending? Overeating? Too many parties? Once you’ve determined what’s causing your festive stress, you can develop a plan for managing it.
Create a plan. Although the onset of stress isn’t always something you can control, there are things you can do to help cope with the effects. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- If you feel overwhelmed about hosting multiple parties, determine whether going out could work instead. Or can you enlist help from others who will be attending? Share the food prep responsibilities, and ask your friends or family to bring a dish.
- If you struggle with overindulging, be proactive before each event. Plan your meals and shopping in advance and consider healthy snacks and/or dishes to stay away from the foods that might not be right for you.
- If you’ve recently experienced a major life change, acknowledge the feelings associated with the holiday season. Avoid isolation and determine what you can do when the emotions become too much to handle, e.g., reach out to a friend or seek comfort through a special activity. Choose activities that work best for your “new normal.”
- If money is a factor, establish a budget and stick to it. Remember, the holidays are about creating connections and memories. Gifts aren’t everything. Stick with your list and check for coupons or special sales to help you save money.
Take care of yourself. One of the primary ways you can stay healthy is to keep a daily routine. Sure, there will be parties and extracurricular activities, but don’t neglect your exercise and sleep. Learn to say no to assure your health (and sanity). Spend time outdoors if you can (phototherapy); sunshine is especially good for those who are suffering from less daylight in winter. Take a break to restore your inner calm, and recharge your batteries with something you enjoy like your favorite music, a good book, or a massage.
You might even go tech-free (gasp!). Just staying off social media may be one way of reducing your stress since research indicates there are many ways it can be a factor. Plus, cutting down on tech will help to alleviate distractions so you can enjoy the time you spend with family and friends more. Making sure you continue to eat well, exercise often, and rest when needed can make the difference in how you manage stress… not just during the holidays, but all the time!
Keep it simple. Be realistic about your expectations. Remember, everything doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t really have to attend every party, do you? Perhaps you could limit the events you attend each week. Or how about saying no to just one thing? Instead of baking all the cookies, could you pick some up at the bakery? How about going out for a meal instead of having everyone over? Traditions can change. Choose a few you really enjoy and be open to making some new ones.
Express gratitude and generosity. There are many studies showing the benefits of developing an attitude of gratitude and a giving spirit. Make a list of all your blessings and find ways to give to someone else. Even better, look for something to be thankful for each day and what you can do for someone else. Choose a place where you can volunteer. If you are feeling lonely, this is an especially good option. You’ll reap the benefits in ways you can’t begin to see. Sharing these positive experiences can increase your satisfaction, too.
Extend forgiveness. If you’re facing some difficult family or friend situations, set aside your differences and try to accept others as they are. Postpone difficult conversations until a more appropriate time. Understand that others are feeling stress, too, and emotions may run higher—which can contribute to adverse situations. Consider the family involvement you want and set boundaries as needed. Forgive others—and yourself—when needed. Recognize that everyone makes mistakes… and move on.
Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out when needed. Sometimes being with others helps you to see you’re not alone in what you are experiencing. Community, religious, and social events can be great resources for support and companionship. Volunteering will help others, lift your spirits, and introduce you to some new friends. Seek professional help from a doctor or mental health professional if you persist in feeling sad, anxious, negative, hopeless, or irritable, or if you are unable to sleep or face routine chores.
Remember what’s most important. The internet is full of great ideas to help manage your stress. A couple of great sites are the American Psychological Stress Resource Center and Happify, a website and app that uses science-based interactive activities to increase your happiness to help overcome stress and negative thoughts. Seek the help you need to enjoy this time with friends and family. Ultimately, the best way to enjoy the season is to remember what it means to you. Consider what you want, need, and can realistically expect from the holiday, then choose to enjoy each day.