Holiday stress is real. According to a survey conducted by Healthline, 62 percent of respondents described their stress level as “very or somewhat” elevated during the holidays, while only 10 percent reported “no stress” during the season.
While holiday stress manifests in different ways and degrees, fatigue, financial drain and family drama tend to be among the three most common triggers. Taking a proactive approach to the holidays can help you not only manage that stress, but also find joy in the season:
1. Instead of viewing holiday preparations as a means to an end, find ways to enjoy the journey.
See what happens when you eliminate the phrase “have to” from your vocabulary, substituting “get to” in its place: You no longer “have to” go shopping/hang the lights/attend family gatherings, you “get to” go shopping/hang the lights/attend family gatherings! Find ways to turn energy-zapping obligations into energizing activities by asking a friend to join you on a shopping expedition or appointing your 8-year-old niece to be your new baking assistant. Savor the moments.
2. Make the holidays yours.
While holidays are laden with tradition, how you prepare for — and celebrate — them is your choice. The first step toward greater peace, fulfillment and energy during the holidays is to take time to think about years past. Are there certain traditions — whether cultural, family or your own — that you really enjoy, or that seem to pose challenges year after year? It might seem scary — even impossible — to make modifications, however big or small, to established ways of doing things, particularly at this time of year. But doing so can be extremely liberating, enhancing your ability to enjoy the holidays.
3. Say “no” — or “yes” with intention.
Do you find it easier to keep the peace by doing someone a favor or even accepting an invitation when you’d really prefer to decline? Particularly during this time of year, where time, energy and money are particularly tight, selectively saying “no” may be the biggest favor you can do for yourself and your family.
Before saying “yes,” examine your motives and anticipate how you might feel after completing the favor or attending the party. Is this something you really want to do/attend — and can you afford the time/energy?
4. Enlist help.
Feeling like you have to “do it all” can elicit feelings of guilt. Why shell out money to do tasks you’re capable of handling on our own. Let go of the judgment! Ease your burden by hiring out some of your least favorite holiday tasks with the help of an online service like TaskRabbit or a neighborhood teenager looking to earn a little extra cash.
Even if you’re trying to conserve spending during this time of year, paying someone else so that you can make more efficient use of your time is usually a prudent investment.
5. Create a timetable.
Planning is essential to mitigating holiday stress. When you stay one step ahead of the game, you’ll never have to play catch-up. Divide the holiday season into manageable chunks to make it less overwhelming. Set reasonable target dates for yourself. Do whatever you can ahead of time — shop, order, decorate, wrap, cook/freeze — to avoid last-minute frenzy. Work in reverse order. From grocery and gift shopping to setting the table or clearing a space in your coat closet, think about how to comfortably pace holiday-related “to-do’s” during the weeks, days and hours leading up to holiday get-togethers.
6. Budget with prudence.
When planning your holiday budget, include all gifts you want to purchase or donate, decorations, travel expenses and groceries for parties and special family dinners. Don’t forget all the incidentals — wrapping paper, stamps, paper plates or treats for the office — that may not seem like a lot on their own, but can add up quickly. If you have limited funds, consider taking either a narrow-and-deep gift-buying approach, buying generous gifts for a few people, or a wide-and-shallow gift-buying approach, buying smaller gifts for more people.
Avoid credit card debt by bearing in mind that charging holiday purchases is still a form of spending money. Accumulating debt by charging too much at the holidays is a recipe for financial trouble. If you put purchases on a credit card, account for them on your holiday budget, and pay for them when the bill is due. Alternatively, consider using a mobile debit account such as Moven or Simple that allows you to pay and track your spending as you go.
7. Downplay the family drama.
Some people find spending time with their families of origin a richly rewarding emotional experience — but for others, the holidays are fraught with challenges that amplify holiday stress. Despite years of personal growth in other relationships, family dynamics have the potential to catapult anyone back to often-unhealthy childhood roles — the scapegoat, the aggressor, the placater, etc. — particularly if there was any type of emotional dysfunction in the home. Try to be aware of the triggers that may cause you to regress to old, non-productive patterns of behavior. Bring your best adult self to the family gathering, remembering who you’ve become — not who you may have been.
If your family situation has changed in some way — whether through divorce or loss of a loved one — let yourself be open to new and different ways of celebrating the holidays this year. If you’ve suffered the loss of a parent or other family member, honor them by sharing stories or preparing one of their “famous” recipes.
Holidays can be particularly challenging during times of transition. Most of your friends and family would happily welcome you into their home if you just say the word — being respectful of your space, they just don’t want to pressure you if you’ve already declined an invitation. It’s OK to call them back and say you’ve changed your mind!
8. Maintain healthy habits.
Your willpower to make wise food choices, maintain your exercise routine and ensure ample, quality sleep is tested at this time of year more than any other. From holiday parties to coffee shops offering seasonal specialty drinks, temptations seem to crop up everywhere you turn. Indulge! Enjoy! It’s all part of the season. But that doesn’t mean throwing in the towel on all the good habits you’ve developed throughout the year. Protect your immune system — and your energy levels — by taking extra good care of yourself during this time of year.
Tweak your perspective on holiday “stress.”
As you prepare for this year’s holidays, notice how your thoughts impact your moods and behaviors. Sometimes an increased awareness can be a powerful enough catalyst for change.
In addition to modifying how you do things this year, is there any way to change patterns of thinking that no longer serve you? How can you shift your focus, so that you enjoy the holiday season to its fullest?
Taking a proactive approach to this year’s holidays just might be the greatest gift you can yourself! Imagine the calm … Imagine the joy … Imagine a new kind of holiday this year.