Although the holidays are meant to be a joyful time, they can also bring about a series of different challenges. Many people juggle social gatherings, budgets, and work deadlines during the season. Also, for many, the holidays bring about some complex emotions. Holidays may bring about memories of loved ones who have been lost. All of these elements can come together to create a lot of stress during the holiday season.
Stress can lead to numerous negative health consequences. For example, stress has been linked to the development of anxiety and depression, difficulty sleeping, and even digestive disorders. If you're experiencing stress this season, it can put a serious damper on your holiday cheer. Learn how to avoid holiday stress, and how to cope with whatever challenges arise.
10 Ways to Overcome Holiday Stress
Do you experience stress during the holiday season? If so, you're not alone. Whether you're facing a new holiday curveball or a stressor that seems to come around every year, there are things you can do to cope with whatever comes your way.
1. Create a Plan for the Season
Psychotherapist Jude Bijou, M.A., MFT, author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life, points out that a major source of holiday stress is a lack of planning in advance. She advises people to create a plan for the holidays before they get in full swing. This will help reduce overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety about topics such as budgets and social calendars.
Having a plan set in place may also help people feel less rushed during the holidays and can even prevent them from overspending. Bijou advises that people follow these steps to create their holiday plan:
- Make a list of everything that needs to be accomplished. This can include things like gifts to purchase, social parties to host or attend, and school or work events. It can also include things like designated time with friends and family, holiday cards to send, and even potential volunteer opportunities you want to participate in with your family.
- Get a calendar. Then, mark off social events and designate times in advance for gatherings you want to attend. You can also use this time to prioritize any activities that you decide you really need to accomplish this holiday season. Remember to leave some availability to spend quality time with loved ones, or to even schedule in days for you and your family to just rest and relax in case you want to recharge.
- Set a budget in advance. This can include things like how much you want to spend on food for hosting parties, gifts for loved ones, or donations that you make to charity. You can also keep in mind whether you decorate with lights during the holiday season to put a little extra aside for your electricity bills.
- Be prepared for things to change and accept them with grace. You can create the most intricate and thought-out plan possible this holiday season. However, sometimes life has a way of shaking things up when you least expect it. If you run into an unexpected problem, such as being invited to a social gathering last minute or being asked to bring a dessert to your child's holiday recital, it's okay. Just do your best to adjust to the change that has occurred and try to stick with the rest of your plan as closely as possible.
2. Don't Take on Too Much
"Don't over-schedule commitments," advises Bijou. You don't have to accept every invitation that comes your way this holiday season. You're allowed to say 'no' to parties and gatherings if they are stretching your time too thin, or if you just want to take a break.
It may seem difficult, but remind yourself that you don't have to keep up with what other people are doing. Your advance-planning calendar won't help you beat the stress of the season if it is so packed with activities and obligations that you don't have any time for yourself. People who truly care about you will understand when you say no to an invitation.
Also, it's okay to take shortcuts. For example, if baking relaxes you, then make homemade cupcakes for your child's holiday party. However, if baking is a source of stress, just buy some from the store. Doing so can reduce the seasonal stress in your life. The kids will enjoy the cupcakes no matter where they came from. And, having a parent who isn't stressed and overwhelmed is more important than homemade sweets.
3. Strategize to Maintain a Healthy Diet
Many people stress about following a healthy eating plan during the holiday season. "Strategize some of the dietary challenges you may encounter," suggests Susan Tucker, nutrition counselor and founder of Green Beat Life, LLC. Take some time before the holiday season to think about your healthy eating goals. She also notes that many people face some of the same challenges each year, which may help people reflect on their goals.
To avoid diet pitfalls, Tucker recommends, that people consider what their holiday schedules will look like during the season. For example, consider where you will be eating, such as at a holiday party, family dinner, or at an airport if you have travel plans. Write down the three top dietary challenges you experience during these scenarios.
Then, think of strategies you can use to create healthier ways to navigate these situations. Tucker notes that these strategies don't have to be complicated. "This may mean eating a healthy snack before you go out, or packing a nutritious meal for traveling."
She also suggests:
- Set up your kitchen to create nutritious support for your holiday eating habits. Do you look forward to eating a lot of sweets at all your holiday gatherings? Or do you have a bit of a sweet tooth in general? One way to set yourself up for success is to clear your kitchen of all sweets. Or, if this isn't possible, at least remove them from the countertops and put them in the pantry.
- Increase your intake of fiber and vitamins C and B. Fiber aids in digestion supports healthier cholesterol levels and can help remove toxins from your system, which may be particularly important during the holiday when excess sugar consumption may be elevated due to eating more sweets or drinking alcohol more frequently at social gatherings. Vitamin C helps support a strong immune system and acts as an antioxidant that can protect the body from free radicals that can cause damage to our cells. Vitamin B helps support the nervous system and keeps the body's blood healthy.
- Choose calming foods into your diet during this high-energy time. Herbal teas like chamomile are often thought to be soothing to the nervous system, while ginger tea has been used to calm the digestive system.
4. Avoid Overspending
"The holidays have a tendency to become a shopping frenzy," points out April Masini, author, relationship expert, and Ask April advice columnist. This can lead to financial pressure and the stress associated with crowded stores, busy streets, the quest to find the 'perfect' gift, decorations, and more. It can also lead to overspending or debt. For these reasons, it's important to set a budget within your means, and stick to it.
Remind yourself that spending is not what the holidays are all about. If you exchange gifts with loved ones during the holiday season, you might find it helpful to make a gift list and use it to manage your holiday spending budget.
Also, don't forget that not every present has to come with a price tag. Non-material gifts can be heartfelt and sentimental and can often be the most memorable of all. For example, you can paint a loved one a picture of their favorite pet, write them a personalized poem, or make them a picture collage.
5. Avoid Holiday Entertaining Stress
Does the idea of cooking a holiday dinner for loved ones bring you feelings of stress? If so, you're not alone. Many people feel pressured to cook elaborate recipes, or numerous dishes to place on their dinner tables in order to impress their guests. Not to mention the added difficulty of cooking for a larger number of people than you may be used to. But, it doesn't have to be. "Cooking a traditional feast is only one of several ways to host a lovely holiday dinner," notes Masini.
Some ways to beat the holiday meal stress include:
- Prepare something less complicated. As Masini points out, some people get completely overwhelmed with the idea of having to cook a turkey. However, you don't have to spend three hours on just one aspect of your meal. You can make a variety of simple side dishes instead, or cook a main dish that's more within your bandwidth.
- Order a takeout holiday dinner. Many local supermarkets have options for people to purchase their holiday dinner pre-made. "All you have to do is order it in advance and pick it up," says Masini. Most of these dishes can be prepared in a take and bake style, where you can follow the heating instructions and have your meal prepared with less hassle. This will allow you to have more energy and time for other endeavors, such as spending time with loved ones.
- Host a potluck-style dinner. Another way to cut down on the hassle of holiday dinners is to get your loved ones involved. You can make a plan with family and friends to each bring a dish to the gathering. This way you can spread out the cooking responsibilities, and also give everyone a chance to bring something to dinner that they enjoy eating and want to share with others.
6. Plan Holiday Travel to Minimize Hassles
Traveling during the holidays can be particularly stressful since so many people are on the go this time of year. Bob Diener, founder of GetARoom.com, offers some tips for limiting the stress and expense of traveling during the holiday season.
- Make reservations ahead.It is an important key to reducing holiday travel stress. "Book early," advises Diener, "Rates are expected to go up as it gets closer to the holidays." When you book in advance, you may be able to grab a room at preferred hotels before they fill up. Diener also points out that many hotels offer 21-day advance purchase rates, which can also help your budget.
- Choose travel days wisely.It's advisable to avoid traveling immediately before major holidays. For example, if you are going out of town on Thanksgiving, Diener suggests, that people consider traveling early morning on Thanksgiving Day and returning on Saturday to avoid the rush of travelers. This can even help you score a lower rate on your ticket.
- Be flexible. Diener suggests "driving to or from a smaller, less busy airport" whenever possible to avoid the larger crowds and lines that can be found at larger airports. For example, Diener suggests that people "consider Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach instead of Miami." According to Diener, it could possibly lead to "substantial savings to top destinations." Also, early morning flights are likely to be less packed than later ones.
- Arrive early."Due to overbookings during busy times, you don't want to miss your flight," advises Diener. In fact, you might have to wait hours or days to get another one during the holiday season, which could cause someone a lot of stress. He points out, "An extra hour at home isn't worth all the frustration of missing a flight."
7. Focus on Joy, Love, and Peace
Bijou advises that holiday stress often happens when people " get swept up in 'shoulds' and expectations." These elements of the holiday season can cause people to lose sight of the real meaning of the holidays and lead them to neglect the actual activities that bring them joy during this time of year. To overcome stress, she advises, people should remember the goal of the season and "feel and exchange joy, love, and peace," which are elements that everyone can bring into their holiday season.
Bijou states that you can create peace simply by being fully present when you are spending time with loved ones. You can show love by accepting others and embracing the joy of giving. You can experience joy by leading with your heart and not abandoning what you know is best for the well-being of you and your family.
With this in mind, she recommends, "Check within before saying 'yes' to hosting that party, accepting an invitation, or buying those too-expensive gifts." Instead, focus on the things that really matter.
8. Lend a Helping Hand
Volunteering takes time, but it can still be a way to help you beat holiday stress. Working with people who are less fortunate than you can provide you with an important perspective on what is really important.
Masini recommends volunteering with your significant other or family to get into the real spirit of the holidays. She states, "Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or something else, there are many people who are not fortunate enough to have a place to go, a tree to decorate, or a gift to open on Christmas day." Many people volunteer with loved ones during the holiday season, especially on the days of the holidays themselves. This can leave volunteer organizations flooded with volunteers on these days, but lacking support throughout the rest of the year.
For this reason, you might find it helpful to use the holiday season to plan a day to volunteer with your family, instead of heading to a local organization on Thanksgiving Day. Some ways to do this are:
- Brainstorm organizations you want to volunteer with or look up local places to volunteer in your community.
- Have your loved ones get together during the holidays and pick a random date in the future to volunteer together.
- When the day rolls around, come together with your family to have a bigger impact and help out a volunteer organization that may desperately need a helping hand after the holidays.
9. Manage Your Emotions Constructively
The holidays can be a deeply emotional time for a variety of reasons. Bijou recommends that people allow themselves to feel their emotions, and try not to bury emotions that could eventually simmer over or prevent you from enjoying your favorite aspects of the holidays.
"Handle your emotions physically and constructively," she points out. For example, if you are sad that a loved one because this is the first year that a loved one will not be in attendance, allow yourself to cry. Or, if you know you'll feel angry at the antics of some family members, step away from the party and take a moment for yourself to manage your emotions in a safe, private place. "Attending to your emotions will dissipate the emotional energy and allow you to be more present," says Bijou.
10. Take Time for Yourself
When things are hectic, sometimes you need a break to just be alone and relax. No matter how much you love your family and friends, everyone needs some alone time now and then. Whenever you feel stressed or overwhelmed, take a relaxation break. It can be as quick as taking five minutes to just lay down and close your eyes, or long enough for you to take a relaxing bubble bath if you have the time in your schedule.
One way to find some relaxation time is to plan it into your morning routine. This will also give you the opportunity to check in with yourself and set an intention for the day. There are many different ways for you to take time for yourself, such as:
- Follow along with a yoga flow online to help reduce stress.
- Get at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night and avoid using screens before bed to improve your mental and physical health.
- Meditate after you wake up or whenever you're feeling overwhelmed to help you relax.
- Practice self-care to help you manage stress by dancing to your favorite music, making your favorite warm holiday beverage, or using a relaxing face mask.
- Start a mindfulness practice and write down five things every day that you're grateful for to boost your happiness.
No matter how carefully you try to avoid or limit seasonal stress, sometimes it just might creep into your life. Bijou says that the warning signs of holiday stress are "anxiety, dread, denial, and grumpiness."
Try to check in with yourself often throughout the holiday season to notice if you are experiencing any of these emotions. If you are, take a moment for yourself to breathe and try to relax. Think about what you need at the moment and see if there is a tip to beat holiday stress that may be able to help. The holidays can ask a lot of people, and you're doing the best you can to keep up. At the end of the day, it's important to be gentle with yourself.