The onset of the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day brings celebrations, school activities, family gatherings, vacations, shopping, decorating and stress. With all the good that the holiday season encompasses, busy schedules, fatigue and high expectations can overwhelm us, leading to feeling stressed, anxious or even depressed.
Although many of the traditions and obligations of the holidays won’t change, there are ways that you can adjust to better manage them so that you stay healthy and can enjoy yourself. You do have to take control and plan ahead, or be flexible enough to handle last-minute changes if necessary, but the holidays need not be a time you dread.
Consider the following information and recommendations to determine what will work best for you and provide the relief you need. Then, make these a habit every year so that you’re better equipped for the holidays.
Before implementing a bunch of stress-reduction tips, it’s important to know what is causing your feelings so that you can effectively address these issues.
First, consider your expectations. At this time of year, many people go all-out, aiming for a perfectly decorated house, a flawless party, gourmet meal or the ideal gift. We don’t typically put this same type of pressure on ourselves at other times of the year.
Despite what you see on social media, everyone does NOT have the best family gatherings where everything is perfect, so do yourself a favor and drop these unrealistic expectations. Limit yourself to a few top priorities (decorations, family gatherings, gifts), apply your efforts to those and let the rest go. That means if you opt out of the cookie exchange this year, or take a year off from sending holiday cards, so be it. Determine what’s most important and don’t feel guilty when you choose to eliminate other demands. If you’re really struggling with this, tell yourself that it’s only for this year, and that you’ll re-evaluate next holiday season.
Along these lines, stop comparing and instead focus on yourself and your family and friends. Enjoy your neighbor’s elaborate home decorations, but don’t let yourself feel bad that yours don’t measure up. Indulge in the fancy homemade menu at a friend’s party, but relax if you’re serving casual, store-bought appetizers at your gathering.
Remember the Reason for the Season
The holidays should be about thankfulness, reflection, togetherness, laughter, new beginnings and more, depending on your religious beliefs. Focus on these important qualities rather than setting the perfect table or outspending your family for lavish presents. Don’t let the externals, such as how many parties you were invited to, ever overshadow what’s more important.
Try to focus first on the people and not all the obligations or traditions, and accept that conflict may occur, feelings may be hurt and dinner may be late during this busy time. Seek an attitude of gratitude versus dwelling on what you don’t have or what didn’t work out.
The holidays definitely are a special time of year, but they aren’t the most important thing in life. While you want your holiday season to be enjoyable and memorable, remember that it’s OK if something goes wrong, and don’t let it crush your spirit or ruin your attitude.
Know that you don’t have to agree to every invitation, and give yourself permission to say no periodically. Do what you can and lose the guilt.
Remember that some people face the holidays in the hospital, or overseas in the military or alone, without their families. One way to gain perspective is to volunteer at this time of year and serve others. Count your blessings and remember that the holidays come annually. If things don’t go as planned this year, you can try again next year.
Take Care of Yourself
While we are busy taking care of others, we can get depleted ourselves, which ultimately can negatively affect not only us but also the people around us. Follow some of the recommendations here to help stay healthy and enjoy this special season.
- Plan ahead – To the best of your ability, mark your calendar early with must-do events, and always consult it before automatically committing to more. Plan menus, make shopping lists, schedule travel and more. Of course, the unexpected can pop up, but being organized offers a feeling of control.
- Exercise – Everyone claims that they don’t have time during the holidays to exercise, and we get it that you’re busy. Regardless, exercise is one of the best ways to cultivate energy, release stress and burn off extra calories. Making time to work out – even if it’s a shorter session – always is smart and pays valuable dividends. You don’t have to do all HIIT workouts, but enjoy some mind-body time with yoga as well. Hit the gym or workout at home, but keep after it. Research shows that exercise can boost your mood for up to 12 hours.
- Go outside – Even if it’s cold, bundle up and take a walk or run for some invigorating, fresh air. Walk the dog, accompany the kids to the park, go ice skating or shovel snow. If it’s sunny, even better for your mind, body and spirit, as sunlight stimulates serotonin production.
- Follow a smart diet – Naturally, this is the time for food excess, which can lead to extra pounds, fatigue and unhealthy habits. You don’t have to deprive yourself totally (and then risk binging), but do your best to practice moderation. Eat regular meals and don’t fast all day in anticipation of overdoing it at an evening party. Regularly opt for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lots of water, and limit sweets, fried foods and alcohol. Resist lingering at the buffet or loading up on seconds, and instead, sample small portions of your favorites. You will feel better throughout the holiday season by choosing healthy foods as much as possible.
- Get some rest – Packed schedules and travel can shortchange sleep, which can lead to fatigue, headaches, irritability and more. Manage holiday overload by protecting a regular sleep schedule and by sneaking in short naps.
- Follow a budget – Set limits and stick to them when it comes to holiday spending so that you don’t face the shock of credit card balances come January. Handmade gifts or bartering services (such as massage or babysitting) mean a lot but don’t have to break the bank. Trim gift recipient lists as necessary and make an agreement to forego presents in favor of quality time or a shared experience together.
- Enlist assistance – Don’t feel like you must do everything yourself. Ask the kids to clean their rooms or help bake, shop online to avoid crowds, hire a maid service for a deep house clean or enlist your spouse to wrap presents. Most everyone wants to be a part of the holidays, so don’t be shy about giving them a job or two. A group effort makes all the work easier to manage.
- Seek professional help – If you’re dealing with depression, anxiety or persistent loneliness, don’t be reluctant to work with a counselor who can help you best address these issues. Therapy, medication and more may make a big difference.
Use these tips above to reduce your stress during the holidays. Stay Fueled!