Tips For Surviving The Stress Of The Holidays

We are officially in the throes of the holiday season which is generally a time for joy, excitement, love, and occasions spent with friends and family.  The holidays have also been notorious for being a source of stress for some of us because of the pressures of gift-giving, traveling, family dynamics, time away from work, etc.  It can be easy to get caught up in all of the stress of the holiday season to the extent that it can prevent us from being able to enjoy it and focus on the true meaning of what this time of year bears.  Therefore it seems appropriate to offer some helpful tips for managing stress over this holiday season:

1.    Be aware of your triggers.  In order to be able to effectively manage our stress, we need to identify the specific events/situations that tend to promote or cause it.  It can be helpful to think about what was stressful for you during previous holiday seasons as a strategy for knowing what your triggers may be.  Once we know what our triggers are, we can plan for them by thinking about potential coping skills we can implement when we become triggered.                                                       
2.    Know your limits.  We often feel like we are stretched thin during the holiday season when we think about our time, energy, and finances.  There is a high potential for us to go overboard on planning get-togethers, buying gifts, traveling, and fulfilling traditions that can take time and energy and this can leave us feeling burned out or stressed.  In order to avoid this, we can be realistic and honest with ourselves about how much time, energy, and money we can budget for this time of year.  This means that we might have to say ‘no’ to some activities/invitations and uphold a budget for spending money on gifts and traveling so that we don’t end up regretting our decisions after the holidays end.                                                                                                                                            
3.    Engage in self-care.  The holidays are a time for us to focus on other people which can make it easy to forgo our own needs.  It may feel selfish for us to focus on ourselves during this time of year however if we don’t take care of ourselves, we likely will not do a great job of giving our full attention to those we love and care about.  Engaging in self-care activities is extremely vital to surviving the holidays which means we should aim to:

•    Maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule so that we are getting adequate rest
•    Maintain a healthy diet
•    Engaging in regular exercise (20-minutes of walking a day can do wonders!)
•    Balance social time with alone time

4.    Find an outlet.  One of the most effective stress management tools we can develop is figuring out what activity we can engage in that allows us to release any negative thoughts, feelings, or tension that we carry around from day-to-day.  Having an outlet is a way for us to gain mental, emotional, and sometimes physical clarity.  Some examples of healthy outlets include:

•    journaling
•    painting
•    working out
•    listening to or playing music
•    playing or watching sports
•    yoga/Pilates
•    meditation
•    prayer

5.    Live in the moment.  Amidst all of the busyness of the holidays it can be easy to  get caught up in the chaos and lose sight of what is happening right in front of us.  When we worry about the future or ruminate on something that has happened in the past, it prevents us from living in the moment and instead promotes stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms.  Therefore one strategy (which requires practice) is to be mindful about what is happening in the here-and-now and focusing on enjoying the moment.  Since the only control we have is on what is happening in the moment, that’s where our focus should be.

For most of us we have heard about these tips before and for some of us, we practice and incorporate these skills in our daily lives during the entire year.  However when the holidays roll around, it is even more crucial for us to put ourselves first by staying on top of our stress so that we experience this time of year as truly joyful, relaxing, and positive.  Happy holidays!

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT