Managing Holiday Stress


The holiday season often brings unwelcome feelings of stress and depression, and understandably so! The most wonderful time of the year can also be the most demanding–year-end sales goals, getting sitters for school breaks, unplanned illnesses from all of the visiting, traveling, parties, shopping, cooking, cleaning and entertaining, just to name a few. Learning to recognize your triggers, along with a little planning, and some positive thinking can help you find peace and joy during the holidays. When the holiday stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup.

Get ahead of it and have your healthiest and happiest holiday season yet by following these tips:
  1. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions often change too. Choose a few to keep, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your parents have retired and moved away, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos. Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when things change. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  2. Acknowledge your feelings. If you can’t be with loved ones because of situations such as illness, death, divorce, or deployment, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s healthy to express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holidays. If some of your relatives have always acted out, chances are that won’t change. Some family situations can be toxic. In this case, the holidays are about being with loved ones–not necessarily blood relatives. It may be time to take a break from family gatherings and spend time with friends.  
  3. Plan ahead and communicate. Set aside specific days for shopping, cooking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your time with each side of the family, travel schedules, and intentions on gift giving and receiving in advance. Communicate these plans from a place of love and with plenty of lead time. Make your menus and gift lists and, from there, your shopping list. This helps prevent last-minute scrambling in buying forgotten ingredients or gifts. Ask for the help you need and be specific–party prep and cleanup, a sitter for a day of shopping, an extra day out of the office to travel.
  4. Just say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Saying yes and then backing out can leave you feeling guilty and embarrassed. Friends, family, and colleagues may struggle to understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. This is a tough fact of this hectic time of year, but honesty is the best, and least disappointing, policy to help you manage your holiday stress.
  5. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek community. Visit a new church, take a class, volunteer, or simply get out of the house and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season. These are all good (and inexpensive) ways to lift your spirits, broaden your friendships, and find companionship and support.
  6. Address practical concerns.
    • Are you feeling down because of the lack of sunlight and bad weather? Using a full spectrum lamp for twenty minutes a day can help tremendously.  
    • Are you eating, drinking and exercising right during the holidays? All things in moderation!
    • Have you had any time to yourself? Not cooking, cleaning, working, or shopping alone but real time to yourself? Take a walk. Read an article. Soak in a hot bath. If you aren’t caring for you, it’s much harder to care for everyone else!
    • Do you have a budget–for your dollars, time, calories, any of it? Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Your time and health are even more valuable. They deserve a budget too!

Keep your expectations balanced and take the season in stride. The holiday stress can make you feel all out of sorts. But remember that meaningful and memorable are better than perfect any time of year but especially during the holidays!