It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Well, the holiday season can bring with it an enormous amount of stress. To make matters worse, we are bombarded with images of what the perfect holiday looks like – which is out of step with reality as many of us experience it. Here are some practical strategies for coping with holiday stress.
Acknowledge your feelings
The first and most important step is to allow yourself to experience a range of emotions, even those that aren’t holly-jolly. If someone you love has died over the past year, or you are unable to be together with close family members during the season, you will naturally feel sadness. Acknowledging these feelings – in yourself and in others — is healthy.
Reach out for support from friends and family if you’re grieving over the holidays. Talking about your feelings can be therapeutic and put you in a better frame of mind to enjoy the season as much as possible. Another idea is to volunteer to help others.
Think quality, not quantity
There are usually a multitude of activities to choose from during the holiday season, and it’s easy to get caught up in the idea of doing EVERYTHING. Release yourself from the pressure of doing it all, and instead choose what’s really meaningful to you – each family member might pick an activity, for example. What is it that you most enjoy about the holiday season, and how can you make the most of that?
On a related note, stick to your holiday budget. Going into debt in an effort to buy happiness – your own or someone else’s – won’t work, and is destructive in the long run. Many people feel burdened by having too much “stuff” anyway, and find the commercial aspects of the holiday depressing.
If you’re stressed about holiday finances or are feeling overwhelmed by commercialism, maybe it’s time to get creative on ways to celebrate. Ideas include:
- Draw names for gifts in the family rather than buying for each person, or instead play a “dirty Santa” game with gift-giving
- Agree to a price limit on gifts
- Exchange only handmade gifts
- Forgo gift-giving altogether in favor of spending time together
- Rather than exchanging gifts, agree to adopt a less fortunate family and go shopping for them together
- Make a charitable donation together instead of exchanging gifts
Manage others’ expectations
Expectations of others – your kids, your in-laws, extended family members, your partner – can be a major source of holiday stress. To combat this, first think through what you believe others’ expectations are, and which of these in particular is causing you the most stress.
Then, consider the possibility you’re wrong about at least some of these expectations, or that others might not realize these expectations are causing you stress. Can you calmly discuss perceived expectations with the people in question? Is there a way to relieve some of those pressure points? It may not be possible to make changes, depending on the needs of others and your circumstances, but it’s worth considering.
Managing others’ expectations might mean you need to let a child know that Santa might not be able to bring him that expensive game system, or let your extended family know you plan to visit on Dec. 26, not the 25th.
Manage your own expectations
After you’ve considered everyone else’s expectations, you shouldn’t forget to consider your own. It’s all too easy to put pressure on yourself to create the perfect holiday experience for your family, to uphold longstanding traditions no matter the current circumstances, or to find the perfect gift.
Talking through your expectations for the holiday with your family can be a great way to turn down the stress – or at least get support. If cooking the big meal is traditionally your responsibility but you’re finding it stressful this year, can everyone who comes bring a dish? Would it relieve pressure to buy ready-made food for at least some part of it?
You may discover that a part of holiday preparations you’re stressed out about – say, putting up the outside decorations , or sending holiday cards – isn’t as big of a deal to others in your family as you thought. In that case, perhaps you can adjust your expectations of yourself and skip it this year, and instead focus on what’s more important.
Try to give yourself a break
Take a day off for holiday preparation and shopping, if you can. Going shopping on a weekday often means lighter crowds and less hustle-and-bustle, and being able to proceed in a leisurely manner can be make preparation much more enjoyable.
Remember, it’s okay to say no when you’re feeling overwhelmed. If you can’t face a party or get-together, instead make alternative plans for socializing when the holidays are over and the winter doldrums have set in.
Keep up with things that are good for your mental health – like quiet time with your partner. Maintain healthy habits, like getting enough sleep and adequate exercise. If you’re worried about overindulging in holiday treats, have a nutritious snack before you go to holiday parties so you’re not as tempted. But don’t kick yourself too much if you overdo it from time to time – after all, it’s the holidays.