Don’t let holiday stress spoil this joyful time of the year. Before you find yourself knee-deep in turkey and dressing, holiday parties, and shopping, shopping, and even more shopping, heed these tips for reducing holiday stress.
In today’s world of two-earner households, 1.87 children, and myriad obligations and scheduled activities, the average American’s plate is already brimming with more than a fair share of time-draining responsibilities. An American Psychological Association (APA) survey shows that 44 percent of Americans believe that their stress has increased over time.
It’s no wonder, then, that the holiday season — with its merry “To Do” list — can lead us to a state of “extreme difficulty, pressure, or strain,” The American Heritage Dictionary‘s apt definition of “stress.”
Take actions now to reduce stress levels this season and even put the “happy” back in your “holidays.”
Take care of yourself
Your body and mind function best with adequate sleep, nourishment, and exercise. This is your first line of defense against the added stress and demands of the holiday season.
Don’t be tempted to get by on less-than-needed sleep. Instead, look for ways to simplify holiday preparations. Try not to overindulge in too many fatty or sweet foods that abound this time of year. These types of food zap your energy levels and can send your mood on a roller-coaster ride of unwanted highs and lows.
If you must cut back on your normal exercise time, try to keep fit by incorporating some movement in your daily errands (for example, parking farther away from store entrances or taking stairs instead of escalators or elevators).
Related: 7 Successful Stress Management Techniques
Don’t break the bank
Money is one of the top reasons Americans are stressed during and even after the holiday season. Establish limits that won’t cause a financial burden on you and your family. Homemade or thoughtful, inexpensive gifts from the heart are often cherished far more than high-priced items. Long after those expensive gifts have been opened, what you gave will most likely be forgotten, but what you paid will keep coming back month after month … in your credit card bills.
Prioritize, and keep the rest simple
There aren’t enough hours in the day — unless, maybe, if you’re Martha Stewart — to do everything to perfection. Make a list of everything that needs to get accomplished, and choose three things that mean the most to you — for example, spending time with family, baking homemade cookies, and sending beautiful holiday cards with handwritten personalized messages inside.
Everything else: Simplify, simplify, simplify. Let’s say you want to simplify gift giving. Consider buying different versions of the same item, like buying a different book for each person on your gift list. Choose each person’s book with his or her individual preferences and interests in mind. Or, if the idea of gift-wrapping box after box sets your heart racing, consider using holiday drawstring or gift bags.
Identify your holiday stressors
The APA recommends that you ask yourself which particular holiday events or situations trigger your stressful feelings. Then determine if you’re relying on unhealthy behaviors like smoking, drinking, or eating to manage stress — behaviors that can contribute to common health problems like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes … and ultimately, more stress. Replace any unhealthy coping behaviors with healthy ones like taking especially good care of yourself during the holiday season and asking for and accepting help from others.
The APA also reported in December of 2006 that “women (44 percent) are more likely than men (31 percent) to report an increase of stress during the holiday season, citing lack of time (69 percent versus 63 percent), lack of money (69 percent versus 55 percent), and pressure to give or get gifts (50 percent versus 42 percent) as primary stressors.”
Laughter is the best medicine
If you find yourself getting way too stressed, it’s time to take a laughter break, no matter how busy you think you are. Rent a classic holiday comedy like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story. Watching these two dysfunctional, funny, and flaky families get through their Christmases will not only make you laugh, but will also make your own holiday problems pale in comparison. Another more current holiday film that’s already a classic is Elf. This sweet and funny movie will not fail to entertain, especially the exceptional performances of Will Ferrell and Peter Dinklage.
Schedule some tranquil time for yourself every day
One of the world’s greatest leaders in the field of mind-body medicine, Deepak Chopra, meditates every day for about an hour and a half. This holistic healer manages to do this in spite of an exceedingly busy schedule. Chopra says, “Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there — buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.”
So, the last thing you might want to do during the hectic holidays is the very thing that you need to do: Take some time to be silent and reflective, even if it’s just 15 minutes. There is scientific proof that doing so can decrease blood pressure, pulse rate, and improve blood circulation. Give this gift to yourself each and every day, and try to replace your holiday anxieties with the warm, loving messages truly intended for the season.
Okay, what’s the worst that could happen if you don’t get everything done? One woman I know found out. Right in the middle of addressing her Christmas cards — she got up to the letter “J” — her husband became severely ill from an acute case of pneumonia. Soon after, he started taking a prescribed medication and went into life-threatening anaphylactic shock. She didn’t know if her husband and beloved father of their two children would survive. After six days in the hospital, he returned home — two days before Christmas.
The last half of the Christmas cards were never mailed. The tree never went up, and half of the gifts never got wrapped. And it just didn’t matter after all. Her husband was alive and on his way to a full recovery … and the unbelievable kindnesses that were extended to her and her husband by the nurses, doctors, and perfect strangers in the hospital brought to the forefront the true meaning of the season. It was the most beautiful and precious Christmas their family had ever shared.
Related: How to Keep Your Emotions in Check During Holiday Stress
Reach out to your fellow human
Tap into the deeper values of the season. Holiday time is the perfect time to forget about your own problems and think about doing something for someone else. In doing so, your own concerns will soon be displaced with that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you reach out and make someone’s life a little brighter.
The holiday season can be a difficult, sad, or lonely time for many individuals. Consider doing one of the following with your family: Invite an elderly widow or widower in your neighborhood into your home for cocoa and cookies, “adopt” someone for the holidays who is either away from family or has no family, serve a meal at a local soup kitchen, or find other meaningful volunteer opportunities that will benefit your community during the holiday season.