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 do not 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 do not 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.
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 online. Plan to finish all of your gift shopping well in advance of the holidays.
- Wrap your presents early.
- Cut back on your baking. Do not bake 10 different types of cookies. Make your goodies ahead of time and freeze them so you will 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. Do not feel that you must be responsible for everything.
Take Care of Your Health
You will 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 8 hours).
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a well-balanced diet. It is 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 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 are 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 have been programmed to believe that the holidays are a time of great joy, love, and togetherness. The truth is that many people may be having a hard time during the holidays, whether they are grieving the loss of a loved one, having financial problems, or experiencing difficulty with their family relationships. Sadness is common during this time of year, which 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 are grieving a loss or feeling sad and lonely, accept these feelings. Do not feel guilty about your sadness or try to force yourself to be happy just because it is 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.
North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension website.
Sleep, sleepiness, and alcohol use. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website.
Weil Cornell psychiatrist offers advice for reducing holiday stress.CornellUniversitywebsite.