Tips for Taming Holiday Stress

The holiday season can be a joyous time for reconnecting with family and friends. But we are often bombarded with images of elegant parties, extravagant gifting, elaborate meals, and cheery family gatherings – all carried out to perfection. In reality, the holiday season is highly stressful for many people, typically even more intensely for those who are easily stressed in general.

The average American spends 42 hours a year on shopping, wrapping, returning gifts, preparing for and attending parties and gatherings, extra travel, and other holiday activities. Many of us also incur significant debt in an effort to give generously to our loved ones. According to a survey conducted by Mental Health America, these chaotic schedules and money concerns are top sources of holiday stress. Stress is also closely tied to our expectations and our visions of how things should be or should have been, and is often related to worrying about the future or fretting about the past. Here are a few tips for getting a handle on that stress so you can experience the most enjoyment of your holidays.

Priorities & Planning
• Set priorities for yourself and your family early in the season about how you want to spend your time and resources. Identify what is most important to you about and during the holidays and make your choices accordingly.
• Once you’ve chosen your activities, make a plan and organize with lists and calendars but leave time open for the unexpected.
• Don’t overbook. You don’t have to accept every invitation – it’s OK to RSVP with a thank you, but no.
• Be conscious of what you DON’T need to do before and during the holidays. Get it off your plate and off your mind – make a list for later.

Scheduling & Getting It Done
• You don’t have to do it all yourself – share tasks.
• Involve your children in holiday decisions and tasks.
• Maintain regular schedules, meals and bedtimes for children.
• Take some time off from work if that’s an option for you.

Family
• Family issues don’t go away because it’s a holiday. Make an effort to set aside family feuds but if necessary, set limits for your availability at family events.
• Take a break to play. Play, including games, helps people connect, turns focus to the moment and away from stress, and engages the mind, body and imagination.
• Don’t be afraid to create some new customs as you honor traditions.

Gifting, Giving & Money Management
• Don’t let shopping and worries about gift-giving rob you of your holiday spirit. A survey by Consumer Reports revealed that up to 49 million people get gifts they don’t want each year. So gifts don’t have to be elaborate or even tangible.
• Know your spending limits and stick to them.
• Be creative in gift giving. Consider a donation to a cause that’s important to the recipient, gifts you make yourself, notes that express your appreciation of a friend or loved one, coupons for your time or help or for a special outing after the holidays.
• Consider drawing names among family members or your circle of friends.
• Find a way to acknowledge and honor a loved one that may no longer be celebrating with you. Consider writing a note or card to them, displaying their photo, talking about happy memories, making a donation, volunteering or giving a gift in their name or memory. It may also include enjoying the holidays as they would wish for you.
• Do something for someone in need or who is alone at the holidays. You’ll likely find that in giving, you’ll receive much more.

Self-Care
• Make yourself a priority, not a sacrifice.
• Pay attention to your own needs and feelings and take some time for yourself.
• Turn off the tech. Take a break from your phone, computer, and other devices.
• Listen to music you enjoy – it relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow.
• The holidays can trigger deep emotional responses, even depression, which may be related to current losses and events or those associated with past holidays. Be honest in your feelings. Don’t hesitate to talk to others or seek help and support. Extend compassion and an ear to those who are struggling with loss – sometimes “cheering up” is not what’s needed.

Attitudes
• Remember that perfection is near impossible – don’t drive yourself crazy trying to create it.
• Don’t let things get too serious. Keep your sense of humor and let yourself laugh.
• Remember that other people are stressed, too, and may act and react accordingly; don’t take it personally.
• Accept people as they are. Be kind to others AND yourself.
• Remember, this is another year. Gift yourself with a fresh outlook, an open heart, and release the expectation that painful past experiences and feelings must repeat themselves.
• Don’t hold too tightly to expectations. Be open to what comes your way, be creative in how you respond to it, and enjoy the journey.
• Adopt an attitude of gratitude.

In summary, forget perfection and an overwhelming to-do list. Take some of the demands off yourself and enjoy the people in your life. Be realistic in your expectations. An attachment to how things “should” be is, in large part, responsible for holiday stress. Look around and see how much there is to appreciate and practice gratitude. Reach out. For more peace and joy any time of year, live in the present and enjoy what IS today. Happy Holidays!

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