It’s December. The holidays bring twinkling lights, the scent of baking cookies, gatherings with friends and family, and stress. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association, Stress in America, showed that even without the upcoming holidays 24 percent of adults report extreme stress. The increased social and financial pressures of this season often create extra challenges. However, implementing these 9 tips may help reduce stress during the holidays.
Reduce Stress by Preparing for the Holidays
Advance planning helps reduce unexpected challenges. Think about some of these tips now to help you enjoy the holidays most fully with peace of mind and joy.
Adopt a Positive Mindset
Don’t let your mind run wild
The first step to creating a positive mindset is acknowledging that you have choice about what is going on in your head.
Rather than mentally rehashing last week’s fight you had with your friend or worrying about your upcoming performance review, choose to stay grounded in the present moment, enjoying or taking action on what is in front of you right now.
Positive thinking reduces the body’s stress response. An optimistic outlook helps you more successfully work with any challenges that arise. Practice catching yourself in negative mental chatter. Break the cycle with a few intentional deep breaths, and replace the stressful ideas with an image of something beautiful.
Look for underlying reasons for unskillful behavior
When people behave like jerks this holiday season, see if you can intuit their underlying motivations.
For instance, before you get annoyed at Aunt Maysie, who continually asks you to try her fruitcake, or your co-worker Steve, who can’t stop telling you about his promotion, take a deep breath. Then, look for the underlying motivation.
Perhaps Maysie is just showing that she loves you. Maybe Steve is merely trying to bolster his own sense of self-worth or is still in awe that his employer saw his value.
Graciously thank them for their attention, then instead of viewing your situation with annoyance, internally express gratitude that you have these people in your life.
Be Realistic With Your Time and Plan Ahead
Choose days for specific tasks
Use your favorite calendar to schedule days or time-blocks for shopping, baking, visiting with friends, cleaning the house, and self-care. Create task lists for each day to help keep you organized.
Solicit help the smart way
If you need help hosting or cleaning up before/after your party, shopping for family gifts, or decorating the house ask for help. Ask people individually for specifically what you need instead of sending out a mass email generically asking for help.
Learn to say no
Pay more attention to your gut or quiet little voice when it says “no” to scheduling yet another event. Often we say “yes” because we feel socially obliged then we end up feeling resentful and overwhelmed.
By saying “no” to events you consider less important, you create more time to say “yes” to the events that truly bring you pleasure and lift your spirits.
Keep It Simple
If you are welcoming out-of-town guests and hosting family festivities, focus on creating simple, enjoyable events.
Know your strengths and what brings you pleasure. If that includes planning and executing beautifully detailed holiday parties, go for it and have fun while you’re doing it. If party planning is not your best strength, create something that utilizes your skills and talents.
Embrace imperfection, let go of control, and be willing to delegate. For example, instead of preparing an entire holiday meal alone, ask all the guests to bring a dish or help you with specific tasks in the kitchen.
Open your heart to spending time with family and friends rather than worry about creating the perfect event.
Set and Stick To a Budget
Know your spending limit
Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can realistically afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. One of the most prevalent causes of stress during the holiday season is worry about money.
Discuss spending limits with friends and family and agree on an amount that fits within everyone’s budget.
Experiment with these alternatives
- Give homemade gifts
- Use words and not expensive items to let people know how much they mean to you
- Let your family know you are not interested in receiving gifts this year, and that spending time together (either in person or via a phone call) is the gift you’re giving them.
- Give “gift vouchers” for a service or skill-set you can offer
Reduce Stress During the Holidays
Stressful situations may not be completely avoidable during the holidays. But you can plan to respond to them in a healthy way.
Maintain Healthy Habits
Physical activity stimulates endorphin production in the brain. Endorphins are brain chemicals that function as a natural painkiller. They trigger a positive feeling in the body, boost mood, and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
An easy starting point is to take a walk in nature. The rhythmic nature of walking relaxes the brain, decreases anxiety, and improves sleep. Get into the fresh air and sunshine and spend some time with plants.
Commit to at least 30 minutes of physical activity a minimum of three times each week. Find an activity that works for you and your lifestyle.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Make the most of this holiday season by ensuring you are well rested. The best way to do this is to get regular sleep. Try to stay within an hour of your regular bedtime.
Often we want to stay up late during the holidays to catch up with old friends and family from out of town, or we enjoy the festive parties so much we just don’t want to leave. However as hard as it seems to do, tuck yourself into bed or excuse yourself from the party before it fully winds down. Your family and friends will thank you most if you don’t turn into the Grinch because of sleep loss.
Zipping across time zones creates the additional challenge of jet lag. Do your best to shift to the current time zone as quickly as possible, and if necessary excuse yourself now and then for a quick nap or some quiet time.
Eat Real Food, Mostly
Inevitably, at this time of year, you’ll find sugary, empty-calorie “treats” just about wherever you go. To be your most energetic, focused, and happy self, do your best to eat vegetables and fruits, choose healthy fats, lean protein, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
A daily squeeze of lemon into warm water with a dash of honey helps balance your body’s pH levels and enhances your immune system.
Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese, or drinks.
Create quiet time for yourself
Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
Try these options:
- Gentle stretching
- Learn self-care techniques
- Get a massage
- Read a book
- Do a jigsaw puzzle
- Relax to guided meditation
In addition, when you get stressed out, anxious, or feel overwhelmed during the day, take quick relaxation breaks of 1 to 5 minutes to calm yourself down. Breathing slowly and intentionally can reduce frustration while waiting in line at the supermarket, post office, or drug store.
If necessary, take breaks from group activities. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Spend a little time by yourself if you are feeling overwhelmed.
Celebrate with families in new ways
As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
Create new traditions
If you’re lonely or grieving, experiment with researching a different culture’s holiday traditions. Plan a gathering based on this newly learned tradition and invite neighbors, colleagues, or friends over to celebrate the season in this new way.
Set Aside Differences
Do your best to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. If others become upset or distressed when something goes awry, treat them kindly and with an open heart. Chances are they’re also feeling the effects of holiday stress and anxiety.
Pick Your Battles
Close proximity with some family members for long periods of time can be stressful. Each person has a unique personality. Because of your differences, it may be easy to rub each other the wrong way.
Set aside your differences, and agree to disagree. Though it is easier said than done, do your best to take care of yourself and let remarks that challenge you roll off your back rather than burrow under your skin.
Redirect conversations away from touchy topics to things for which you’re grateful and that are going well for yourself or your family members. Don’t let the actions of others rob you of your joy.
Be Content With Imperfection
Release yourself from the expectation that you will create the perfect holiday for your family. Focus instead on the traditions that make holidays special for you. Notice and act upon the activities that bring you peace and joy instead of forsaking your own peace of mind to please others.
Remember that just because it’s a holiday, family problems don’t go away. If you have a hard time being around your relatives, it’s okay to set limits on your time at events and visits.
Clutter and dust bunnies are acceptable
Stop obsessing over doing it all. The world is not going to end if the house is a little messy or dinner is on the table a few minutes late. Focus your energy on enjoying the people in your life. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Strengthen Social Connections
Maintain close friendships
Strong and supportive relationships help us manage all kinds of challenges. View the holidays as a time to reconnect with the positive people in your life. Accepting help and support from those who care about you helps reduce anxiety.
If you need it, seek support from those you trust. Many people isolate themselves when they’re stressed or worried. However, social support is important, so reach out to family and friends.
Get professional help if you need it
Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. We’re all human and we all need a helping hand at times. Taking care of yourself during the holidays is a top priority.
Be Kind to Yourself
Most of all, be kind to yourself. In order for us to sustainably extend kindness to others we must have a strong foundation of self-kindness. Practice finding ways to be at peace with yourself.
Some people are better at dealing with uncertainties than others. If your tolerance for unpredictability is low, do something you enjoy rather than something you find to be difficult. Remind yourself that it might take time for the stressful situation to resolve, and be patient with yourself in the meantime.
Want more ideas for reducing stress throughout the year?
This article covers a few very quick and practical ideas for reducing stress during the holidays. Making a permanent change takes courage, patience, and continual practice.
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