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Reducing Holiday Stress
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Reducing Holiday Stress

Dashing through the snow
In a mindless fit of fray
Through the malls we go
Rushing all the way.
Horns on Hondas blast
We have to get home fast!
What fun it is to bake and wrap
Thank God it doesn’t last!!
Jingled nerves, jingled nerves, jingled all the way…

Perhaps cheery holiday carols don’t quite capture the essence of your holiday season. Maybe when you hear the words “peace on earth” at this time of year, it feels more like a cruel joke. If you’re like many people, the peace comes only after it’s all over.

The holidays are a time of parties, shopping, entertaining, religious observations, expectations, crowds, clutter, family gatherings, decorating, roller coaster emotions and, inevitably, stress. However, with a little planning and creativity, the holidays don’t have to be so stressful. Here are some ideas for bringing a little peace and renewal to your holiday season.

Plan Ahead and Prioritize

Sit down with your family and come up with a list of ideas on how you would like to spend the holidays. Decide which ideas would be the most stressful in terms of cost, time, and energy and cross them off your list. Choose the things that you enjoy and can accomplish realistically. Prioritize the events that matter most to you and your family, and set a budget.

Clarify Your Values

Reflect on the way you spend the holidays. What is most important to you—spending more money on your loved ones or spending more time with them? Do you believe the idea that “love-equals-money”? Are you driven by perfectionism and competitive gift? Do you take the time to experience joy and the true meaning of the season?

What other ways could you show your love? Do you enjoy shopping or is it a hassle each year? Is gift giving really meaningful or do you end up with lots of clutter and gifts that you don’t really need? What, if anything, would you like to change about how you celebrate the holidays? Answering these and other questions can help to clarify your values for the holiday season, and result in a much more relaxed and meaningful time.

Simplify

Here are some tips to simplify your holiday challenges:

  • If you dislike traffic jams, crowded shopping malls and parking lots, and waiting in long lines, try shopping from a catalog or the internet. Plan to finish all of your gift shopping well in advance of the holidays.
  • Wrap your presents early.
  • Cut back on your baking. Don’t bake 10 different types of cookies. Make your goodies ahead of time and freeze them so you’ll have less to do during busy times. If you are looking for dessert variety, try organizing a cookie exchange with your family and friends.
  • Take care of several errands in one trip, rather than making multiple trips.
  • Consider drawing names rather than exchanging gifts with all your family members and friends.
  • Limit the number of social events you host or attend.
  • Delegate tasks to family members. Don’t feel that you must be responsible for everything.

Take Care of Your Health

You’ll be at your best and more resistant to stress and possible infection if you take good care of your health. Here are some suggestions:

  • Get plenty of sleep each night (at least 7 hours).
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet . It’s okay to have some goodies at a party, but a few extra calories here and there can add up to holiday weight gain—slowing you down.
  • Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol depresses the nervous system and can cause fatigue, depression , and sleep disturbances.
  • Take time to unwind . Take a hot bath or find a quiet place to enjoy some time alone each day. Even a few minutes can make a difference.
  • Stick to your healthy routine as much as possible.

Don’t Forget the Joy

Try to celebrate the holidays in new and creative ways. Remember that you’re not a “human doing” but a human being! Enjoy the uniqueness of each special person in your life and enjoy the time you can spend just being together. Seek out the simple joys of the holiday season with your friends and family. Taking a walk around the neighborhood to look at holiday decorations, singing carols, playing games, or just talking are easy and healthy ways to positively experience the holidays.

Adjust Your Expectations

We get a lot of messages about how things should be at the holidays. We’ve been programmed to believe that the holidays are a time of great joy, love, and togetherness. The truth is that many people are grieving the loss of a loved one, coping with a serious illness, fighting with family, experiencing financial troubles, or feeling lonely and unloved. Often the very expectation of holiday cheer can add to their misery and stress. In fact sadness is so common during the holidays, that it is often referred to as “holiday blues.”

One way to reduce stress and the “holiday blues” is to keep your expectations realistic. Things will likely not be perfect, no matter how hard you try. There may be disappointments, arguments, and frustrations, in addition to excitement and joy. Try to go with the flow, allowing for inevitable delays and setbacks. Do not have the expectation of perfection from yourself, as well as from others around you.

If you’re grieving a loss or feeling sad and lonely, accept these feelings. Don’t feel guilty about your sadness or try to force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. If this is a difficult time for you, adopt a nurturing attitude toward yourself. Do not be afraid to seek support from family, friends, or a counselor. If the holidays are a lonely time for you, find ways to increase your social support or consider volunteering your services to those in need. Helping others in need is a wonderful way to celebrate the message of the holiday season, as well as an excellent way to help you feel better.

RESOURCES:

The American Institute of Stress
http://www.stress.org/

American Psychological Association
http://www.psych.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada
http://www.anxietycanada.ca/

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
http://www.camh.net/about_camh/

References:

North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension website. Available at http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/ . Accessed December 3, 2002.

Sleep, sleepiness, and alcohol use. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-2/101-109.htm .

University of Maryland website. Available at: http://www.umm.edu . Accessed December 3, 2002.

Weil Cornell psychiatrist offers advice for reducing holiday stress. Cornell University website. Available at: http://www.med.cornell.edu/ . Accessed June 10, 2007



Last reviewed June 2007 by Ryan Estevez, MD, PhD, MPH

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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