For many people, an unwelcome guest may also appear: stress. By being proactive, however, you can reap the benefits of the holidays and address the things that trigger anxiety and apprehension. The following are 10 ways to cope with possible tensions during the holiday season:
- Avoid overextending yourself.
- Does the idea of hosting holiday gatherings exhaust you? You may feel obligated to invite your loved ones for Thanksgiving dinner, a cookie exchange in December, or other holiday-related activities that seem to increase expectations and levels of personal stress.
- Remember, though, you don’t have to do it all. Tell your friends and family you feel overcommitted and ask them to take over some of the hosting duties. And if you still feel like hosting but want to lighten your load, request that each guest bring a dish or contribute in another way. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Prepare a budget for holiday gifts.
- Research reveals that people who experience a spike in stress levels over the holidays are more likely to worry about the amount of money that may be involved.1 From maxing out credit cards to falling behind on bills, consumers experience a great deal of stress relating to the real, or projected, financial burdens of holiday gifts and gift-giving.
- This is where budgeting comes in. When you are holiday shopping, rather than filling your cart aimlessly, determine in advance what you can afford to spend realistically. Then make a list and figure out exactly whom you intend to gift—allocate a specific sum to each person on your list. Budgeting will allow you to take control over your holiday shopping and expenditure.
- Make a plan for Black Friday.
- An effective way to control spending is to shop on Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving. Yet this, too, can take a real toll. Some people sacrifice sleep while waiting in long lines for the stores to open, skip meals in the hope of snagging the best deals, and experience increased stress while competing for in-store deals and finding parking spaces.2
- To reduce stress levels, make a plan of which stores you plan to visit and potentially what you plan to purchase there. Wait until the afternoon to do your Black Friday shopping. Lines are generally much shorter, and the crowds aren’t as competitive after the morning hours. Also keep in mind that some retailers offer weeklong sales, so you may want to shop on a different day. Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, is a compelling option for shopping as well.
- Take a personal day.
- To make real progress on your to-do list, schedule specific days and times, in advance, to shop, cook, and get your home ready for guests. This is particularly true if you are employed when it may be difficult to spend several hours at a stretch on holiday tasks. You can complete certain things—say, grocery shopping—during your lunch break.
- Or consider taking a personal day to plow through several obligations at once. Taking approved time off from work, midweek, can give you the energy boost you need to come out ahead of schedule. The feeling of being in control and accomplishment for the holidays may energize you when you get back to your desk, too.
- Rely on healthy fuel to stay strong.
- Do you eat processed snacks when you experience stress? Life’s daily hassles lead to an increase in unhealthy snacking, and the holidays are no exception.3
Rather than making this time of year a dietary free-for-all, be sure to keep healthy snacks on hand at all times. Carrots and homemade hummus are a protein-packed option; so too are Greek yogurt and fruit. Then, when you’re craving an indulgence, you can snack on whole foods, which are known to help reduce feelings of stress.4
- Spend time with colleagues.
- US employees are 70% more stressed than usual over the holidays.5 If you’re feeling overwhelmed or isolated, don’t overlook the benefits of socializing with your colleagues.
- Your coworkers are likely experiencing similar emotions to those you’re facing, so think about joining them for happy hour or a walk on a nearby trail. Socializing is highly beneficial, and spending time with colleagues can offer a much-needed escape from the holiday stress in your personal life.
- Take time each day to clear your mind.
- While human beings are social, we also benefit from spending time alone. Being by ourselves allows us to recharge and reflect. In turn, relaxation activates our internal systems that help restore balance within the body, so it is important to make self-care a top priority during the holiday season.6
- To restore your sense of calm, try to spend at least 15 minutes alone each day, doing something you enjoy. Deep breathing, listening to relaxing music, taking a bath, or even getting a massage can work wonders in the way of reducing holiday stress.
- Spread out visits with loved ones over the course of several days.
- If you have a large family, you can reduce your stress by scheduling holiday visits over a number of days. Seeing relatives at various locations in a short time is not only stressful, but downright exhausting.
- Keep in mind that you may need to schedule a visit with grandparents one day, a cousin the next, and your parents the following weekend. The same applies to other friends and family—remember that your time matters, and try not to feel guilty about your scheduling needs.
- Find your winter sport.
- If you’re a runner, there are plenty of races that will help counteract your anxiety over the holidays. If Turkey Day 5Ks and Reindeer Runs aren’t your style, work to reduce your stress levels with another activity—for instance, hiking, cross-country skiing, or yoga.
- Physical activity promotes health and happiness, and even 20 minutes on the treadmill can improve your mood. In fact, experts claim exercise is one of the most effective ways to manage stress.7 Prioritize keeping active this holiday season.
- Start a gratitude journal.
- People of all ages can benefit by focusing on the positive. Expressing our gratitude in a sentence or two at the end of each day is not only a great habit to cultivate, it touches on the central theme of the holidays.
- Research indicates that gratitude is associated with happiness and wellbeing, and as such, jotting down the things you’re grateful for can be an ideal coping mechanism.8 To cut back on stress this season, consider starting a “gratitude journal” of your own. It just might make you feel better.
The tips in this post are designed to help you manage stress over the holidays. If you find that you can’t escape your negative thoughts and feelings, consider seeking help from a doctor or mental health professional—especially if your holiday stress persists over an extended period of time.