11 Effective Ways to Reduce Stress During the Holidays

Like many of you, the holidays have been getting the best of me. I have not posted in quite some time and that is on me. While I don’t want to deflect from personal responsibility in my failure to post as consistently as I want to, I know that the impending holiday is playing a role in that.

Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love everything about it (aside from the underlying flavor of commercialism). It’s a viable excuse to pack on a couple extra pounds, spend more time than usual in your pajamas, become a homebody and take time off work. Christmas can also be a very difficult time for people. People who struggle with mental health issues and who have experienced recent, significant or several losses can struggle during this time of the year. Christmas time can also cause added financial stress as well as stress in time management and social engagement. Juggling buying gifts, hosting responsibilities and sharing your time between all sides of the family are just some of the stressors we can encounter during the holiday season.

I’ve identified some strategies that can help you trim the stress (not just your Christmas tree) out of your life during the holiday season so you can experience as much joy as possible.

1. Take a Break from Social Media – Social media is great for staying connected and getting a good laugh now and then. However, social media can be a source of anxiety and frustration at times. Seeing other people smiling with family and friends around their beautifully decorated Christmas tree can highlight the fact that you aren’t feeling the same way and aren’t having the same joyful experiences as they are. Social media is a representation of a fraction of someone’s life and for most people, that fraction is the most positive and attractive part which is a distorted representation of how life is.1 Take an hour, a day a week and put social media away.

2. Eat Healthy During the Week- I recognize that it is nearly impossible to forgo the Christmas cookies, holidays chocolates and special desserts that rear their beautiful heads during this time of year. Guilt is a common emotion that occurs after we indulge in anything from sweets to gravy to alcohol. Make it a point to eat healthy during the week so when the work Christmas parties and family gatherings occur, you can indulge without the guilt. Knowing that you ate healthy on the “off days” will allow you to enjoy your sweet treats and second helpings.

3. Contribute- For any of you familiar with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), contributing is actually a skill that can help you tolerate stress effectively. Doing something kind for someone can improve our overall mood. Helping people improves our mental health, reduces stress, increases our self-esteem and can have positive effects on our physical health.2 Contributing can take many forms from volunteering at a homeless shelter to snow blowing the driveway for your husband to baking cookies for your colleagues at work. No task is too small to generate positive vibes!

4. Exercise- I am very aware that this is a very obvious one, however just like the skill mentioned above, exercise is a skill identified in DBT that helps regulate our overall mood. It can be easy to slip on our exercise regime (guilty), however exercising can strengthen our self-esteem, reduce depression and anxiety and even help strengthen our immune system.2 Try to target a certain number of days a week that you can realistically commit to exercising. Try not to judge yourself if you don’t meet that target; continue to strive towards it. Remember, a snowball fight, sledding and ice skating all count!

5. Sleep- The stress of this time of year with the social and financial demands can really disrupt our sleep regime. It is essential to have a healthy sleep hygiene, especially when we are spread thin. Research continues to show a strong connection between a healthy sleep hygiene and positive mental health. Give yourself and your family permission to go to bed early. There is no shame in being in bed by 8:00 p.m. Your physical and mental health will thank you for it.

6. Schedule Down Time- Identify a day for yourself (and perhaps your family) to be homebodies and stay in your pajamas all day! Just veg! If you want to wrap a few presents in there, fine by me. Make sure that it is a stress-free day with no concrete plans you have to make. Consider your pajama day a day that’s scheduled in stone and cannot be cancelled. It is just as important as your other holiday festivities!

7. Alcohol- The holiday season can involve social drinking and partying for many of us. Try not to overdo it and certainly be safe if you are indulging. Don’t forget that alcohol is a depressant and drinking heavily can increase irritability and lower mood.2 Try identifying a number of drinks you will allow yourself to consume before you attend the function. This awareness can help you savor your drinks and possibly drink less than you would. Also, be mindful of what you have to do the following day to help you stay on track.

8. Delegate- Although you are wonderful, you unfortunately do not possess godlike powers or a magic wand that can instantly make things happen at the snap of your fingers. If you’re like me, you may have a tendency to take on too much responsibility when much of the responsibility can be delegated to others. Assign family members with specific tasks and allow them to pitch in. I know you’re thinking “but it’s even more work when I do that”. I hear you and I have felt that way many times. Here’s a tip to help let go of that sentiment; explain (and even write down, type out if needed) exactly what you want done and basic steps to help your person complete it successfully. Also, be flexible and patient with your loved one as they try to assist! Provide praise and positive encouragement to help motivate them to help you further.

9. Let Go of the Perfectionist Mindset- There is no such thing as a “perfect person”, “perfect holiday”, “perfect house”, catch my drift? To piggy back off of #8, try to remember that the magic of the holidays is in the moments not the clean house or the perfectly decorated tree. The magic is in the act of decorating the tree with your family and cleaning the house to Christmas music while you use the broom handle as a microphone! Accept the imperfections and try to absorb the magic in each moment. You and your family members are only going to be this age during this holiday season. Next year, it is all going to be different.

10. Check Every Box Before You Leave Work- When the last minute is up before you head home for your holiday break (no matter how short), make sure you leave no stone unturned. Return each email and telephone call and spend a few minutes tidying up your work space. When you leave work, leave work! You don’t want to have anything hanging over your head while you are enjoying the holidays with your loved ones.

11. Make a List and Check it Twice- When we have a lot to do it can feel overwhelming. Our thoughts can become a mashup in our minds that is relentless and stress-inducing. In the beginning of your day, write down the things that you would like to accomplish and can realistically achieve in a 24 hour time period. At the end of the day, check off what you were able to tackle. This visual can help motivate you to continue working on the tasks you need to do as well as generate feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment. Also, writing things down can help you externalize the mashup of thoughts in your mind and it helps to relieve stress.

Thanks for reading and I hope you try several of these habits to help you savor every drop of your holiday. I didn’t list mindfulness in there because I know that you are practicing daily anyway. Have a healthy, safe and happy holiday. Be back next year!

1. National Alliance on Mental Health. (n.d.) Merry Christmas and (un?) happy holidays.
2. Mental Health Foundation. (n.d.) Christmas and mental health.

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