Every year as the holiday season approaches, I feel a sense of dread mixed in with all the excitement. It’s not that I don’t love the holidays, but this time of year, I find myself so frazzled by the end of December that it’s difficult to enjoy myself. How can I find relief from holiday stress and still enjoy the season?”
~ Client Comments
If you find yourself more stressed than you’d like to be during the holiday season, you’re not alone – around 80% of individuals feel the same way. It’s no wonder; all of the baking and entertaining, shopping and wrapping, relatives we don’t often see, and holiday cards can add up to a schedule packed with extra activity and responsibility. Pair that with the high expectations that most of us carry for the season, as well as the debt that often lasts for months afterward, and you have a recipe for stress, that has many people starting off the New Year already wishing for a break, and in need of some serious holiday stress relief.
This year can be different, though, if you try a combination of cutting back on activities, taking shortcuts, and adjusting your own expectations for the season. You can enjoy the holiday to the fullest without maxing out your energy, schedule and credit cards. Here are some tips that can provide relief from holiday stress.
Make a Plan
Your first line of defense from holiday stress is to think about what it is about the season that has felt so stressful in the past. Do you always have a conflict with your spouse about whose family to see, or a conflict with the family once you all get together? Do you end up working on your holiday card list up until the last moment, agonizing over what to write, or trying to weigh whether you should send them late or at all? Do you end up spending too much? If you can make specific plans to better handle these situations, you’ll be less stressed when you face them.
Here are some tips to help make that plan:
1. Plan a budget. Between gifts, travel, food and entertainment, it’s easy to overspend during the holidays if you aren’t careful. It takes about four months for the average credit-card user to pay off holiday-related bills. Don’t let finances stress you out. Simply stick to a budget. Figure out how much money you can afford to spend on a holiday, and then don’t spend a penny more.
For gift-giving holidays, it may be helpful to decide how much money you can spend on each person, and then put that amount of cash directly into an envelope with the person’s name on it. When the envelope is empty, shopping ends. No exceptions.
2. Focus on one thing at a time. Instead of trying to do everything at once, separate your tasks and tackle them one at a time. That way, you will be less likely to get sidetracked or have your mind wander. It also helps to have a list of all of your tasks so you can mark off each one as you complete it. Plus, you’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment when you can see all the things you have finished.
3. Simplify. If you feel pulled in many directions during the holiday season; cut back on all of your outings. For example, many people’s Christmas stress stems from trying to juggle too many activities: office holiday parties, church events, Christmas caroling, tree-lighting ceremonies, pictures with Santa Claus, the Nutcracker ballet. Let each member of your family pick one or two activities that mean the most to them and save everything else for next year.
4. Say no. Don’t let anyone pressure or guilt you into taking on more than you can handle. Simply decline, nicely but firmly, activities or engagements that you don’t have the time or energy to undertake. If you can’t say no (for example, to your boss), cut something else out of your schedule to make sure that you don’t become overbooked or overstressed.
5. Hold your tongue. The holidays are a time of family togetherness – and all the family drama that goes with it. When family members cram together under one roof, it is not uncommon for tempers to flare, especially with the added holiday stress. Keep the peace in your household by setting a good example. Practice forgiveness and accept your family members for who they are. And if that doesn’t work, remember what your mother always said: “If you can’t say something nice …”
6. Watch what you eat. We all have a tendency to overindulge during the holidays with sweets, fats, carbohydrates and alcohol. Unfortunately, the more fats and sugar you eat, the less energy you have, and you end up feeling even more stressed and run-down. Fill up on healthy snacks before you go to a holiday party. You’ll be less tempted to overeat on a full stomach. To keep your energy up during the hustle and bustle of holiday preparation, try eating mini-meals throughout the day.
7. Break a sweat. Exercise is one of the best ways to help your body beat stress. But when you’re running around with a “to do” list as long as Santa’s, hitting the gym is usually the last thing on your mind. Just as it is important to maintain your normal diet during the holidays, it is essential to keep up with your normal exercise routine.
8. Set aside some “me” time. Take a minimum of 15 minutes every day to kick back and relax by yourself. Take a walk around the block, sip a cup of hot tea or listen to some soothing music. A little alone time will help you recharge your batteries and put the rest of your holiday stressors in perspective.
9. Give back. Traditionally, many holidays are about giving. One great way of coping with stress is to give back to your community. Buy a gift for your favorite local charity, or donate money to a charity in a friend’s name. Volunteer at your local nursing home or soup kitchen. Helping others can fill you with a sense of joy like nothing else, especially if you can’t be with your own family during the holidays.
10. Keep your expectations realistic. Your family probably isn’t like the Cleavers, and your holiday probably won’t end up like a TV special. In real life, problems happen. Maybe you overcooked the turkey. Maybe your sister couldn’t make the drive up. Maybe you didn’t get through all the things on your “to do” list. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The holidays are a time to celebrate and give thanks for everyone and everything that you have in your life.