Reduce holiday stress? Seems like a difficult challenge but know that it’s completely normal for stress levels to go up during the holidays. Between family events, work events, gifts to buy, end-of-the-year tasks to do, and resolutions to make, it’s no wonder we can feel overwhelmed. With fewer pandemic restrictions in place this year, it’s likely many of us will feel more holiday stresses than last year. Of course, some of us have the opposite problem, with not enough to do during the holidays, no family to see, or gatherings to go to, the stress can be equally as high. How do we deal with all this stress then?
- Acknowledge how you’re feeling in the moment. Our emotions are important and it’s totally okay to say, “I’m feeling stressed right now.” Actually, saying it as you begin to feel it can prevent the unfortunate incident from exploding all over your loved ones. Stress can tell us many things: that we care about something, that we’re normal humans, that there is too much going on. By taking a moment we can give ourselves the space to figure out what is causing us to feel this way, and potentially do something about it.
- Be realistic with your expectations and only control what you can. Sometimes there is a lot we want to do but couldn’t possibly fit into our schedules. I know that I always want to do more than is realistic for me to do. So, I prioritize and see how I’m feeling as I go. This can help you prevent stress before it happens. Being realistic also refers to our expectations of others. We can’t control anyone’s behaviour but our own. Yes, sometimes our families may be the cause of our stress. Understanding this, avoiding unrealistic expectations of them, and controlling our own responses can lessen the impact on our psyche.
- Organize and Plan. No one is a list master like my mom… and then again she also rarely feels stressed, especially during the holidays, so maybe she’s onto something. Organization can take the form of lists, scheduling events in advance (and actually looking at how busy your schedule is before scheduling more), setting reminders, and taking some time to get a sense of what your holiday plans are going to look like. This may mean shopping early, cooking in advance, or figuring out sleeping arrangements ahead of time. Whatever you need to do, pick an organization method that works for you (calendars, day planners, your cell phone or tablet).
- Make a budget for your money and time. It’s so easy to get stressed out about money, especially when there are gifts to buy. We all only have X amount of dollars to spend on said gifts, food, and entertainment. Since we tend to spend more at this time of year, figuring out your budget and sticking to it can definitely ease stress – especially in the new year when we’re trying to pay off credit cards. Equally important is to budget your time. Maybe that’s only one event or outing per week, or maybe you have more flexible time and can do more, or less flexible time and can do less. It’s okay to say NO if you need to.
- Stay on top of your healthy behaviours. This is the time of year where many of us start to neglect things we normally take care of. Sometimes we even right it off – let’s do a whole “cheat” month and just go back to normal in the new year. And yet one of the best ways to take care of stress is to: sleep properly (go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time daily); eat healthy (yes some treats are okay but try to balance it with proper nutrition); exercise regularly (stick to your normal routine as much as possible), and try not to get excessive with drinking (it usually makes our mental health worse).
- Set boundaries, especially with family. I mentioned this already, but if you have to say no to something or someone, that’s okay! Protect your own mental health. This may mean saying no to going to an event, or it may mean being firm about what is okay or not okay to talk about with your family and friends at the moment. A lot of people struggle with setting boundaries, and the anticipation of interactions ends up causing a lot of stress for people. Try setting boundaries in advance, instead of only in the moment, to prevent overwhelming yourself.
- Split the tasks and ask for help. If you have a partner, one great way to decrease the stress for both of you is to figure out who’s going to do what. This involves some communication and likely some compromise, which can go a long way. Additionally, recognizing when you’re overwhelmed gives you the opportunity to reach out for help. This could be with a task – maybe something a friend or family member or coworker could do. This could also be for your mental health, which is when seeing a licensed professional can be beneficial. Just remember, you don’t have to do everything yourself!
- Take breaks along the way. Do you know the feature of the Apple Watch that reminds you to breathe? That’s actually so smart. A break can be 1 minute just like that. It can be a 5-minute meditation. It can be a day (or night) off. Maybe it’s stepping away from a conversation and getting some fresh air. Whatever a break looks like for you, it’s especially important to take them when you feel that stress coming on. If you can’t take a break at that exact moment, then fit one in the moment you can. And prioritize it!
- Giving meaningful gifts can improve our mood. The best gifts I’ve ever received have been ones that have had a lot of thought put into them. And the best gifts I’ve given have also had a lot of thought put into them. The joy of giving is experiencing how happy the other person is when they open it. Usually, more meaningful gifts equal more joy which sends all these neurons in our brains firing at full speed and we see a boost in our mood. And that in itself can reduce stress.
- Remember what is important to you, and connecting with others is often part of that. The best way to prioritize any and all of this is to just start by connecting with your values. Who and what is important to you? Keep that in mind as you go through the holidays. Remind yourself. Many people answer family (or friends) when it comes to who is important. Connect with them, be with them, and remember why you’re doing it.
Wishing you all a happy holiday, whatever, and however you celebrate.