Welcome to the holiday season, a hurricane of gift-giving holidays, marketing blitzes, holiday parties, and activities galore that starts right after Halloween, builds to Thanksgiving, and continues to gain momentum until the end of the year.
While this season gets meant to evoke feelings of love and joy, it is also a precursor to holiday stress for many. Indeed, according to a poll conducted on this site, more than 80% of us find the holiday season to be somewhat or very stressful—that puts navigating the holidays on par with asking for a raise! Hence, what is it that has us all riled up?
As the saying goes, “everything in moderation.” The issue with the holiday season is that we frequently have too much of a good thing. While stress is necessary for survival and zest for life (researchers refer to this positive type of stress as “eustress”), too much pressure hurts mental and physical health. Too many activities, even if they are enjoyable, can lead to excessive holiday stress and leave us feeling frazzled rather than fulfilled.
Many people eat, drink, and be merry—often to excess—due to an abundance of parties and gift-giving occasions. Unfortunately, the temptation to overindulge in spending, decadent desserts, or alcohol can cause many people to experience long-term stress due to dealing with the consequences (debt, weight gain, memories of embarrassing behaviour) that can linger long after the season has passed.
Furthermore, in these difficult economic times, finding inexpensive gifts can be stressful in and of itself, and holiday debt is a tradition that far too many people unwittingly bring on themselves. It can cause months of stress.
During the holidays, extended families tend to congregate. While this is a lovely thing, even the closest families can overdo it, making it difficult for family members to strike a healthy balance of bonding and alone time. Many families also assign each member roles based on whom they used to be rather than who they are now, which can sometimes bring more dread than love to these gatherings.
The good news about holiday stress is that it can get predicted. We can anticipate when holiday stress will begin and end, unlike many other types of negative pressure in life. We can make strategies to defeat the stress we experience and the negative impact it has on us.
Look at some suggestions to help reduce holiday stress before it begins, so it remains positive rather than overwhelming.
Before becoming overwhelmed by too many activities, consider which traditions have the most significant positive impact and eliminate unnecessary ones. For example, suppose you get typically consumed by a frenzy of baking, carolling, shopping, sending cards, visiting relatives, and other activities that exhaust you by January. In that case, you should reconsider your priorities, pick a few favourite activities, and focus on them while avoiding the rest.
We may want to look and feel good during the holidays, especially if we’re around people we often see. Still, there is so much temptation in the form of delicious food and decadent desserts, as well as a break from our regular routines—all of which can add up to overeating, emotional eating, and other forms of unhealthy eating.
This year, prepare ahead of time by becoming aware of your triggers, doing what you can to have some healthy food on hand for each meal, being mindful of your intake, and practising mindful eating. More detailed guidance on doing these things and other things can get found in the resource listed below.
Putting your plans on paper allows you to see how feasible they are in black and white. If you write down your activities in your planner as realistic as possible, including downtime and driving time, you’ll be able to tell if you’re trying to cram too much. Begin with your most important priorities so that you can eliminate the less important ones.
If at all possible, schedule some time each day to go for a walk in nature, like exercise and exposure to sunlight can significantly reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of SAD.
Although it may appear obvious, we frequently fail to take deep breaths and provide our bodies with the oxygen they require. Of course, having ten minutes alone to practise breathing meditation is ideal, but simply pausing to take a few deep, natural breaths can reduce your level of negative stress in minutes. If you visualize yourself breathing in serenity and breathing out pressure, the benefits of this exercise will be even more pronounced.
Don’t let the holidays be the root of stress for you. Instead, take precautions to avoid the anxiety and depression that can accompany the holidays. Recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial or personal pressures, so you can deal with them before they cause a meltdown. With a bit of forethought and positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.
We often focus on others during the holidays by sending cards, buying gifts, and cooking food, but this is more important than ever to find time for yourself during stressful times. Plan ahead of time by scheduling some “me” time.