As the holiday season approaches, many people start to feel the anticipation. Unfortunately, stress starts to nag at most of us and it slowly increases over time. We see everyone on social media talking about what a wonderful time they are having. Ads show us large, loving families sharing meals with family members and getting along perfectly. Our mental health starts to do a nose-dive as we wonder why holiday stress only seems to be part of our lives. The thing is that we are mistaken in this because so many people simply hide their holiday stress. They often feel overwhelmed just as you do. Today, we are going to talk about why the holiday season can be so stressful and what you can do about managing holiday stress.
Why the Holiday Season is Stressful
Any events, good or bad, can cause stress when they are something that adds to your normal routine. In addition to the changes and added activities, there are a few other reasons the holiday season can make you feel stressed. Let’s explore some of the most common ones.
Feeling Pressured to Do it All
Holiday stress is often amplified because we pay so much attention to the messages all around us that are coming from advertisements or social media. They make us feel guilty if our lives don’t mirror what we are seeing. We often feel pressured to go beyond our means and spend more money than we have, spend more time with family and friends, and attend every holiday party we are invited to attend. If we fall short, we feel that we somehow fail where others are succeeding. It never occurs to us that things aren’t always as rosy as others make them appear.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder is very common this time of year, especially in parts of the country that see snow. The lack of light triggers the release of certain hormones that can have us feeling depressed. Trying to remain cheerful and keep up with the extra activity of our friends or family can cause us to feel overwhelmed. We want to spend time with others but lack the energy to do so.
Toxic Families or No Family
For those who have toxic families or even no family, this can increase holiday stress. We see portrayals of happy families everywhere and it makes it even more obvious how much we are missing out on. This is the time to gather together your closest friends. Family doesn’t need to share DNA. There is no reason you have to subject yourself to toxicity just because it is a holiday.
Being in Recovery
For those who have fought addiction, whether it be drugs or alcohol, the thought of attending a holiday party that has alcohol can be terrifying. This is especially true if this is your first holiday season clean and sober. There is no reason you need to put yourself in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable. Talk to those close to you about your feelings. Those who love you will understand and will help you find alternative ways to spend time with them. This may be the time to introduce the new tradition we will talk about a bit later.
How to Manage Stress During the Holiday Season
Now, let’s take a closer look at some specific ways you can manage holiday stress. You don’t have to do all of these things. Often, just two or three will help. Pick the tips that fit your needs and give them a try.
Understand that you can’t do it all, nor should you have to. Often, we put much higher expectations on ourselves than others put on us. This can be difficult for those who spend their everyday lives striving for perfection in their jobs. Understand that nobody is perfect and nobody expects you to be. This thinking realistically also applies to your workplace. Many businesses enter a slow period around the holidays. Don’t allow a drop in business to send you into a panic. Use the time to evaluate the past year and see what you can do to make the coming year even better.
Take a Break
With all the activity, it is essential that you give yourself time to breathe. Holiday stress will be much easier to handle if you incorporate some self-care into each day. Take some alone time and put on your favorite music. Take a walk outside, preferably in nature. Scientists have proven that nature has a way of soothing our minds and rejuvenating our bodies. Your friends will be there once you return and you and they will all enjoy the interactions that arise from a refreshed mind. If getting outside isn’t possible, find a quiet spot where you can simply sit and breathe deeply and slowly. Finally, never underestimate the power of a hot bubble bath.
Honor Lost Loved Ones
If there is someone you love missing from this year’s festivities, take time to honor loved ones who are gone by taking some time to remember them as they were. While their absence may seem like a large part of the holiday is missing, taking the time to remember them in happier times will make it seem more like they are with you. Too often, people tend to avoid speaking of those who have passed and this creates tension in the air. You just might be surprised at how many people around you will appreciate this chance to open up and talk, even for a few minutes.
Bringing joy to others often helps us put our focus elsewhere, which gives our minds time to decompress. Take a look around and see where you may be able to bring joy during the season. Soup kitchens are often looking for volunteers to help serve those who may have nowhere to go on the holiday. Another place that offers a double benefit is the local animal shelter. First, you bring much-needed companionship for the animals there. Secondly, it has been proven that interacting positively with animals helps reduce blood pressure, a necessity for managing stress.
Stick to a Budget
Limit the amount of money you spend. Instead of buying a ton of gifts, maybe set up a day where friends and family can get together for a few favorite activities that don’t cost anything. Sometimes, spending time with loved ones means much more than spending money on things that take up space.
One thing that has many people stressed is fitting everything in. Set limits in regard to how many activities you can actually enjoy. Manage stress even more by creating a to-do list so you don’t have to worry that you forgot something. This list can be used in conjunction with a holiday planner so you don’t overdo it.
Learn to Say No
You don’t need to accept every invitation you receive this holiday season. People understand how difficult it can be to make yourself available all the time. You don’t have to accept the chore of arranging the company holiday party or other activities. Ask yourself if an event is something you really want to attend. If not, don’t go.
Create Your Own Traditions
Sometimes the traditional activities you feel obligated to attend cause more stress than enjoyment. Consider creating a new tradition that brings you joy. Instead of attending several parties, have a potluck party where you host your closest friends and family and make it just one get-together, freeing you up to enjoy your time alone. Do what brings you peace. There is no rule that says you have to do something just because it has always been done.
Maintain Healthy Habits
It is easy to forget about taking care of yourself with so much going on, but maintaining healthy habits will make it much easier to manage what you need to. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep as often as possible. Exercise regularly to maintain energy and release stress and follow a healthy diet. This last one can be difficult with all the holiday treats available, but if most of the food you eat is healthy, a treat or two won’t hurt.
Avoid Over Indulging
Just as overbooking your time can create a great deal of stress, so can over-indulging in food or drink. Often, we feel guilty after doing so, adding more negative feelings to an already stress-filled time. Create boundaries for others and limits for yourself. You will be surprised at how often less really is more and creates an environment that is freeing instead of stifling.
Reach Out for Help
If you are still feeling overwhelmed, reaching out for help from a mental health professional may be in order. With all you have to take care of, having someone who can give you direction and help you find ways to cope can be the best thing you give yourself this holiday season.