The holiday season can be stressful and chaotic for many people. Whether it is fighting through the sea of people in crowded stores, making appearances at the seemingly never-ending list of gatherings, or the financial strain on the wallet, many people feel overwhelmed and stressed out during the holidays. It is unfortunate that the season can be so stressful. The holidays are meant to be a time to celebrate family and friends – a time to come together and enjoy one another’s company. It is a time to give and receive the gift of love as well as to offer support to people in need. It is a time of spiritual renewal.
If you happen to be like many people, the beauty of this season may be lost in all the hustle-bustle. You face lots of stressors everyday, especially during the holiday season. However, it is how you react to these stressors that is important – not the details of the stressful events. Using healthy coping skills can help you learn to ride through the stressful times with grace and a cool head. Managing your stress level will allow you to connect more fully with the spirit of the season and enjoy your holiday preparations and celebrations. The following 12 suggestions will help you cope with the holiday stress and put the jingle back in your mood.
12 tips to help you manage the stress during the holiday season:
1. Stay Positive! You are in control of your attitude – choose to be positive. Use affirmations and the power of positive thinking to stay positive. For example, you could say to yourself “I am calm and stay connected to the beauty of the holiday spirit.” When you are feeling overwhelmed with the pressures and commitments during the season, change your “stinking thinking” to something more positive. Focus on the things that you do enjoy. Remember that your attitude isn’t dependent upon what happens to you, but on how you react to what happens.
2. Use deep breathing! Practice deep breathing exercises to help you stay relaxed when you are feeling stressed. When you are stuck in traffic or waiting in the long lines, this is a perfect time to practice your deep breathing. Take a deep breath in as you count to 3, hold it for a second or two, and then exhale to count of 3. You might count to 4 or 5 – the important thing is to stay focused on your breathing and allow the experience to be relaxing. You could also imagine that you are breathing out your stress and frustration while breathing in calm and peace.
3. Exercise! Exercise releases endorphins that lift your mood and your boost your overall well-being. Many people give up their regular exercise routines during the hectic holiday season. Exercise is most important when you are stressed, so even if you have to get up earlier or give up something else, make sure to get regular exercise. Park far away from the store so that you get a little extra exercise. Walk an extra lap in the mall to get those endorphins flowing. Try tai chi or yoga to help keep your body, mind and spirit fit.
4. Practice mindfulness! Stay in the present moment by practicing mindfulness. While you walk through the stores, keep your attention on what it feels like to be walking (not on your list of things to do). Put one foot in front of the other and stay focused on each step. You could also try mindful eating by eating slowly and paying attention to the experience of eating. This will help you stay calm and peaceful no matter what is going on around you. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the stress of your to-do lists. Stay in the moment. You can only do what you can do. If you stay calm and focused in the moment you will be more productive.
5. Count your blessings! Developing an attitude of gratitude leads to better mood and a more positive outlook on life. Start a gratitude journal and each day record at least 3 things in your life for which you are grateful. Be earnest and sincere. Even if you are unhappy with your current situation, you can always find some things to be grateful for. Most of you reading this article can count as your blessings a place to live, food to eat, and a family to love. Even if you have health problems, you can look for areas of your health for which you are thankful – perhaps you have healthy teeth or strong nails. It doesn’t matter how small a thing you identify, as long as you are sincere in your appreciation you can reap the rewards of an attitude of gratitude.
6. Plan a head! Rushing around at the last minute trying to buy presents or shop for your holiday meal can be very stressful. Start a head of time and make plans. Make a list of the people for whom you want to buy gifts. Check your list to be sure you have included everyone! If money is tight, make a budget and stick to it. Plan a head for your party gifts – you might even want to buy a few extra general gifts (a bottle of wine or a candle) to have on hand. You can use these gifts if you get invited to a party at the last minute or to give to your neighbor (you know, the one you forgot to put on the list).
7. Delegate! You do not need to do everything yourself. Let others help out in the planning and preparing for the holiday festivities. You can even have small children pitch in by helping to clean up, decorate the house and/or help with simple tasks in the kitchen. Make a deal with your partner – one of you wraps presents and the other cooks or cleans. Having everyone in the family chip in and help with the preparations can be fun and give you time to bond together.
8. Practice random acts of kindness! Focus on helping those in need – good deeds can help you feel good about yourself (i.e. – donate to charities, let someone get in front of you in line, help a neighbor shovel snow, etc.). Research shows that doing a good deed also helps people who witness this good deed! You can really help make the world a better place by practicing random acts of kindness. Go out of your way to be sure you do one good deed a day. Compliment and encourage others. Put aside your hard feelings and reconnect with someone for whom you still hold a grudge.
9. Share your positive attitude! A smile can be contagious – smile at the store clerks and the other shoppers in line. Smile while you are on the phone ordering those special gifts from your favorite catalogue – believe it or not the person on the other end can “hear” your smile. When you encounter grumpy holiday shoppers, resist being pulled into their negativity and try to spread your positive attitude. Make a game of it and see how many smiles you can get each day.
10. Create new and meaningful traditions! If you need some help thinking of new traditions or ways to add meaning to your holidays check out my article – Making the Holidays fun and meaningful. When you have some special activities to look forward to it can make your parties and festivities more fun and special. Find ways to engage the entire family in activities or games.
11. Let go of your need to be perfect! Your desire to make everything perfect can ruin your holiday. Let go and enjoy yourself. The world won’t end if the decorations aren’t perfect. Your family won’t run you out of the house if the meal isn’t just so. Perfectionism can lead to depression and anxiety. Relax and enjoy the spirit of the holiday and the company of family and friends.
12. Learn the power of no! Sometimes the best thing you can do is to say no. People will learn to respect you for creating and maintaining your boundaries. Most people will understand if you need to say no to that party, project, or activity. You can’t fit it all in and that’s ok. If you are already overcommitted or you simply don’t want to attend an event, be polite and decline in advance. If you have trouble saying no, remember that the people who really care about you want you to take care of yourself and be happy.
The key to managing stress during the holidays is to remember to use these coping skills (and any others that work for you) frequently. I suggest that you print this article and put it up on your refrigerator to serve as a reminder. The more you use your coping skills the better you will get at managing the holiday stressors.
Originally published in 2008