The holidays are an exciting time of year. They bring the opportunity for family, friends, and loved ones to come together in celebration. All the delicious food! The joyous music! But that’s not all there is to it. Holiday stress can be a real thing and it’s important to know how to cope with it.
Thinking about all the expectations, the kids being home from school, the gifts to buy, the planning and the depleted bank account fill me with anxiety. And according to the American Psychological Association, women are even more likely to suffer from holiday stress than men. But it is possible to cope with holiday stress in a healthy way.
The keys are to learn what triggers your holiday stress and then build your holidays with those triggers in mind.
What causes holiday stress?
Our lives in 2021 are already frantic and overwhelming, with most people working full-time jobs, side-hustles, dealing with our kids, and, of course, managing the best we can with the COVID 19 pandemic.
Add on top of this stressful family gatherings, planning, extra cooking, shopping, worrying about money, pressure to keep up the Joneses, and so many other added stressors that it’s no wonder people are stressed and overwhelmed during the holidays.
Many people have family members who don’t respect boundaries or additional work or volunteer duties to manage during December as well.
This stress over the holidays can even go so far as to transition into depression. Christmas depression can be a real thing. It’s essentially a Major Depressive Disorder with a seasonal cycle. Not only this, but Seasonal Affective Disorder can have an impact too, since the light is low during winter and you’re likely getting less vitamin D.
Thankfully though, the idea that suicide rates are up over the holidays is actually a myth. Suicide rates go down over the holidays.
But stress and feeling overwhelmed is indeed something that goes up over the holidays. So how do we counter it?
How can we reduce stress during the holiday season?
Stress reduction is all about making mindful choices. It is about being aware of your past holiday traditions and choosing to do some things differently this year. Managing our stress during holiday time can be a challenge, but it is doable, and worth the effort!
This next section will give you 18 tips and ideas of aspects of your life to consider when making these changes. Your mental health is worth the time and effort that go into coping with your stress.
16 Tips to Relieve Holiday Stress
1. Be mindful about time with family and friends
We all only have 24 hours in the day. But come the holiday season, and everyone is vying for your time. Being mindful about the time you spend on gatherings and events to attend means that you might not be able to say yes to everything that you want to.
Prioritize your health and wellness during this time too, so that the time that you do spend with your friends and family members you can give them your full focus and feelings of joy during this wonderful time of year.
2. Set healthy boundaries
On the other hand, sometimes there are family members that we dread seeing over the holidays. It could be that bizarre uncle that asks you inappropriate questions, or the narcissistic great-aunt who has a lot of money but treats everyone like her own personal servant. Your parents or siblings might even make you feel like a burden.
Just because you’re related doesn’t mean that you should be obligated to give these people parts of yourself. Practice good boundaries. Limit the time you spend at those gatherings and be sure to stand up for yourself.
RELATED POST: Affirmations for Stressful Family Gatherings
3. Focus on the important things and stay organized.
Staying organized is important! Start writing events down in your calendar as soon as you know about them. Keep your calendar on you all the time, like in your phone, so you don’t ever forget and accidentally schedule multiple things at the same time.
When you focus on the important during the time ahead you can concentrate your holiday energy on enjoying the most important aspects of the holiday season.
4. Get support from friends and family
Learning to manage your stress in December means leaning on your family and friends. Explain to the important people in your life that you’re experiencing stress, and ask for their help or advice. They can help by being affirming and validating, and chances are, you’re not alone and they’re feeling stressed out too.
You can make plans for coping together and support each other in positive ways during this stressful time.
RELATED POST: How to Support Other Women
5. Schedule time for self-care
During the holiday season, our wellness and health is of utmost importance. Practicing self-care is crucial. Self-care means taking the time to recognize your needs and nurturing yourself. The holiday season can be stressful, but that doesn’t mean you have to run around like a crazy person.
If we don’t take time for ourselves and our health, we could end up feeling exhausted or even sick during this wonderful time of year.
6. Get adequate sleep
In addition to self-care, sleep is one thing that can really help you manage your stress and feel better. Getting too little rest, napping during the day and having nightmares can add to holiday-time stress. Sleep deprivation is linked to irritability, moodiness, depression, anxiety and even health problems like diabetes, heart disease and respiratory illness.
Don’t stay up too late baking cookies. Instead, support your family’s health by foregoing the sweets and getting extra sleep!
7. Watch how much you spend
According to the APA (American Psychological Association), 61% of Americans listed money as their top stressor during the holidays. Plan how much you’re going to spend, budget for it, save for it, and then be frugal with your spending. The Budgetnista says:
“…Having a budget is integral. It keeps you on track so you can stick to the plan even if other items grab your attention on your shopping trip.”
Going in with a plan means that you can watch the amount of any gift you buy and even save extra cash.
8. Celebrate in a way that feels good to you
Being realistic about your holidays can be the best thing you can do. Maybe you love ice-skating and hot-cocoa, but white-elephant gift exchanges give you anxiety. Perhaps you love meditating by the Christmas tree in the early morning when everything is quiet, but you hate to cook.
Be realistic about what you’re willing to do and give of yourself over the holidays.
9. Eat clean
In addition to getting plenty of rest, healthy eating is essential. After all, good health and success are deeply connected. And when we eat proper nutrition through fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats and we leave all the sugar-loaded stuff off the menu, we feel much better.
Sugar, which is packed into all kinds of holiday food we eat, is linked to cravings, fatigue, anxiety and weight gain, which is why you feel gross and bloated when the holidays are over.
10. Exercise when you can
Not only does moving your body feel good, it’s another one of those essential parts of a healthy life and a healthy holiday season. And you don’t have to be a “gym rat” or run marathons. You can do holiday-themed workouts at home, like decorating the Christmas tree and dancing around while listening to holiday music.
Go on a walk through the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights. Make an effort to walk the mall while you’re out shopping. Exercise can also help you sleep better!
11. Connect with important people
These are the times of the year that we see important people in our lives. In my own life, my Grandma Kubilius is someone I usually only see during the holidays and I make an effort to be intentional and mindful while spending time at her house.
When we are living in the present moment and forgetting about our troubles in order to be with those that we love, the holidays feel free and positive.
12. Keep your routine
It’s easy to get out of routines during the holidays. But it’s important to try to keep them as much as you can. Keeping a holiday eating plan, or holiday exercise schedule is an important part of keeping holiday stress down.
Even healthy routines such as our morning routines or only drinking a glass of wine once a week may be worthwhile to keep during this time of year.
13. Let go of expectations
When we hold expectations of others, we’re setting ourselves up for feelings of disappointment and frustration. If you’re the kind of person to drop hints to your partner about what gift you want but you don’t tell them directly, you’re opening yourself to having a pretty crappy Christmas morning.
Giving yourself permission to let go of what you expect from others relieves pressure on both of you.
14. Be aware of your feelings
Awareness of our health, bodies, and emotions is crucial during the holidays. If you feel anxiety building through tension in your shoulders and neck, that should be a sign that you’re doing too much. Some people find themselves slipping into bad habits like emotional eating, drinking too much, or stress shopping.
Knowing yourself and what stress looks like for you can make or break your holidays.
16. Don’t do anything you’re uncomfortable with
In today’s pandemic world, it can be difficult to find the balance with socializing and managing CDC COVID 19 guidelines. Stress has been overwhelming the world since the start of the pandemic in December 2019, and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon.
Again, know your limits. If your family wants to have a Christmas party at an indoor restaurant and you’re not ready for that, you should not hesitate to call it off.
16. Talk to a therapist
Talking to a qualified therapist can help guide you and help you take control of this difficult time. It’s okay to get medical or psychological treatment during the holidays. It is not shameful to need medicine like antidepressants or anti-anxiety medicines to get through these stressful times.
If you feel suicidal, make sure to call the number: 800-273-8255 to reach the suicide prevention hotline.
Holiday stress doesn’t have to ruin your holidays. These tips and advice are here to help you prioritize your health. And managing our stress is personal for everyone. It’s okay to say when you’ve had enough and you need to take control of your stress.
I wish you a perfectly relaxing Christmas and New Year!
If you’re ready to take on some New Year’s goals, be sure to check out all the posts about New Year’s Resolutions here!
What do you do to handle your stress over the month of December?