No matter who you are or what your circumstances, the holidays can be a stressful time for numerous reasons. Maybe traveling is hectic; maybe this is your first holiday season without a loved one; maybe you have strained relationships with family; maybe the holidays bring up bad memories; maybe finances are tight; maybe you struggle with disordered eating; or maybe the holidays mean overwhelming stress and pressure. There are many more reasons that the holidays can bring up uncomfortable emotions. Listed below are 10 ways to decrease stress during the holiday season.
1. Avoid overcommitting.
With so many holiday events, it can be very easy to make your schedule an overflowing calendar of stress and responsibilities. School events, work events, family events, charity events, get-togethers with friends, neighbors, etc. You are not obligated to attend every holiday party, especially if it increases stress and/or decreases happiness. We spend so much time running around to events/activities than we can forget to slow down and actually enjoy them.
2. Make a plan.
The saying goes “fail to plan, plan to fail.” This is as true for the holiday season as it is for anything else. Plan ahead. Take a look at your calendar and set yourself up for success. In addition to making sure to not overcommit, also make sure you schedule in enough time for those special traditions that you may not otherwise make time for. Scheduling these things ahead of time will decrease stress, because you wont have to worry if you can make time for them — you already did. During planning, make sure that you plan a “time cushion” around any travel time: leaving yourself extra time for the unexpected can prevent the feeling of rushing.
We tend to make things more complicated than they need to be. The holidays are a great time to simplify in order to decrease stress. Instead of pressuring yourself to make cookies from scratch, pick them up from the store. If you hate wrapping presents, use bags. If even thinking about sending Christmas cards makes you sweat, don’t do it. If you dread every day of the elf on the shelf, don’t do it. Why not make things easier on yourself when you have the opportunity?
4. Practice boundaries.
The holidays are a great time to practice boundaries with those people who tend to push them. Saying “no” is a great way to start. If you don’t want distant relatives to stay at your house, say no. If you don’t want to host the dinner party at your place for the 9th year in a row, say no. If you cant commit to another charity event without losing your mind, say no. Saying “no” to stress is also saying “yes” to self care. Meeting the needs of others while neglecting your own needs is a recipe for stress.
5. Make time for yourself.
The busier you are, the more time you need to recharge. Make sure to make time for yourself in whatever ways bring you peace. It could be a simple as a bubble bath or as elaborate as a weekend getaway. Whatever you do that refuels you, make sure you are doing it during the holidays. Take care of you. As the saying goes: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
6. Don’t do debt.
Consumerism can be overwhelming, and it is easy to fall into the trap of seeking to buy happiness. Nothing you buy to put under the tree will buy you happiness, though the advertisements can sure make you think so. Going into debt for the holidays will only increase stress for the New Year. Do your future self a favor and stay within your means.
During the hustle and bustle of the holidays it is easy to lose sight of what is really important. Take the time to pause, reflect, and consider what your priorities are. Think about what you are grateful for. Think about the past year, and what lessons you have learned along the way. Self-reflection is an important part of growth and self-care.
8. Use coping skills.
Load up your toolbox of coping skills so that they will be easily accessible when needed. Coping skills can look like taking deep breaths when feeling overwhelmed, taking a “time out,” distracting yourself in specific ways, reaching out to trusted support persons, practicing guided meditation, utilizing grounding techniques, journaling, etc. Identifying positive coping skills can prevent you from being tempted to use coping skills that are harmful.
9. Stick with routine.
Our brains like routines, and our routines often are disrupted due to the holidays. Work and school schedules change; some people travel or have family visit; sleep schedules change; eating habits vary; etc. Even if all of the changes are technically positive, it can be disruptive to our mood. It can be helpful to stick with routines when possible to reduce stress.
10. Check in with yourself.
Last, but not least, make sure to check in with yourself. Use the “stress meter” and rate yourself on a scale of 0-10 to practice increasing your awareness of your stress level. Oftentimes, we don’t recognize how stressed we are until it becomes unmanageable. You can also ask a trusted support person to check in with you in case you forget to check in with yourself.
Anticipating and preparing for times of increased stress, recognizing stress triggers, and being intentional about preventing and coping with stress can make your holiday season go more smoothly. Whatever challenges you might be facing this season, you don’t have to face them alone. In addition to these tips, a mental health professional can provide an individualized treatment plan to not only help you through the holidays, but through any difficult season that you may experience.