We’ve seen it, we’ve heard it, we’ve experienced it: holiday stress. It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma stuffed in a stocking and hung over the fireplace: somehow the holiday season brings us both joy and stress. Clearly, there are people who find no pleasure in the season as it triggers anxiety and depression – and mixed with seasonal affective disorder triggered by short days, low sunlight, and long nights, it can produce a real emotional whammy. But there are also a significant number of people who find themselves on a physical and psychological roller-coaster during the holidays because far from dreading the season, they sincerely enjoy it. However, just because you enjoy something, doesn’t mean you’re immune to some of the sharp edges that may be hidden beneath festive packaging. These people can find themselves in a quandary. They may find their energy flagging at unexpected times, or even general frustration or misdirected anger, and really not understanding that the stress of the holidays is seeping in at some level. Here are some approaches to consider to keep yourself steady so you can fully enjoy the season and keep a handle on reducing holiday stress.
Work in enough physical movement to off-set mounting stress – when you’re stuck in long lines or traffic, remember to counterbalance that with some exercise at some point. Walking is a great option! Just walking around your neighborhood for fifteen minutes before or after shopping is an easy option for many. If this isn’t conducive to where you live or due to winter weather, remember that the malls make good walking tracks. Either before shopping or in between sessions – after safely securing your items in your car – get some good walk time in, letting go of all worries as you do, letting your mind relax. Another quick tension reliever that you can do on a bench in the mall, your car, or at home, is to sit tighten and release muscles throughout your body. Starting with your feet, tighten them up for few moments, and then release and relax. You can move up your leg with calves and thighs, your abdomen and back, shoulders, neck, and facial muscles. Tightening and relaxing the various muscle groups lets you compare the difference between the tightness of tension and the comfort of relaxation. In a few minutes, you’ve reduced some stress that may have been building.
Be aware of your sugar, caffeine, and alcohol intake during the holidays. Each has its place but each has its downside, too. Sweets are a big part of the holiday season but the sugar spikes and crashes can throw your energy off – as can too much alcohol at the various gatherings. Caffeine is then over-relied upon and then you can find yourself in a detrimental cycle. Moderation is usually the key.
Besides just a social drink or two at gatherings, some people drink to offset the season’s tension that often is related to economic or interpersonal relationship concerns – having to spend time around family with whom we don’t see eye to eye, or ex-spouses and in-laws because children are involved. Drinking or other self-medication usually just makes matters worse as most of us know. Look at the root cause for your unease and attack the problem there. If times are tight and you can’t afford a lot, accept this and let people know if you feel compelled to – most people are a lot more understanding than you think. You can also give creative gifts like homemade dinners, or a movie night with a child or friend, hikes in the park or ice skating – things that you can pace out over the weeks following the holidays. These ‘shared experience’ gifts often end up being the best type of presents. For the people you have trouble dealing with on a personal level, think up strategies to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. This means visualizing what buttons they like to push – what remarks they might make – and being ready to let them roll off your shoulders. It may mean scripting out a narrow band of topics you’ll discuss and not veering from it. Prepare yourself in advance – it can make all the difference in the world, and it is so much more effective than getting a little tipsy and trying to wing it! We’ve all tried that with very mixed results!
Don’t get caught in a time warp – we sometimes tend to think the two weeks from about December 18th to New Year’s Day is really like two months…but it’s not. Some people deal with it by preparing for a lot well in advance – and that’s because they really want to do that. If it’s not your thing, then don’t try to force a lot late in the game. Have a limited agenda and don’t feel the need to explain it to everyone. If there are things to get done and there are friends or family members around to help then delegate. Oftentimes people want to help out but don’t know what to do. And if somebody doesn’t do something you ask, don’t get flustered and have the ‘I have to do it all myself’ mentality. If they didn’t do it, it’s not that important to them, so you can let it go, too. Odds are everything will roll along fine and people will take care of their needs when the time arises.
You deserve an enjoyable time after a long year of meeting challenges as best you can. Give yourself the gift of letting go more at the end of the year. The best YOU going into the new year is the greatest gift you can give yourself and your loved ones. Less stress during the holidays is a great way to get a jump start on it!