Holiday Stress: You Can Learn to Deal with It

December 6, 2014 Providence Health Team

Learn to deal with holiday stress“Holiday,” according to one definition, is a time of festivity or recreation when no work is done. No work? What about cleaning the house and making sleeping arrangements for your guests? Not to mention braving the crowds to shop and then coming home to prepare the holiday feast?

For most of us, the term “holiday” also refers to period of time chock full of activities – some festive, some recreational – but nearly all capable of inducing considerable stress. And a lot of that stress is caused by increased workload. Maybe or maybe not on the job. But, definitely at home.

Traditionally, at least, a major share of these holiday workload tasks has been handled by women. And, not surprisingly, women have a higher incidence of stress during the holiday season.

When work obligations and family responsibilities clash, the result can be trouble. Nearly one-third of Americans report feeling stressed because they don’t get enough time off work to handle holiday chores.

Delegate Responsibility

One way out of the crunch is to be more assertive in delegating responsibility – both at work and at home. Yes, everyone loves your pecan pie. But, maybe this year, you should let someone else take responsibility for dessert. If everybody looks to you to lead cleanup after dinner, then be a supervisor rather than a servant: “Jack can load the dishwasher, while Erica packages up leftovers and finds places for them in the refrigerator.”

Stick to a Budget

Another major source of holiday stress is worry about money and racking up credit card debt as you try to keep up with family expectations. One study found that 36 percent of Americans with family incomes of $30,000 to $50,000 worry about being able to afford the holidays.

The solution: set a holiday budget and stick to it. If your extended family is growing, consider drawing names to determine who gives a gift to whom. Or set a limit: no gifts that cost more than $25.

Have Realistic Expectations

Experts point to unrealistic expectations as a common source of stress. When you set your expectations too high – then push yourself trying to meet them – you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and even greater stress later. Expectations are particularly high during the holiday season, and they can cost more than you can afford in time and money.

Respect Tradition, Don’t Cling to It

Most families have long established rituals and traditions that are part of the holidays. As children grow up, form their own families and move to other states or countries, change is inevitable. If you can’t all be around the same Christmas tree, you might be able to re-create some of those memories and emotions through Skype or FaceTime.

Rituals and traditions evoke memories of the past, and sometimes these can be bittersweet. Some family members have passed away. Others have left because of divorce or family squabbles. You might be able to reduce the family stress by allowing some discussion. Which rituals are worth keeping? Which are better off abandoned?

Recognize, Treat Depression

Many individuals have trouble getting through the holidays because of depression. Unresolved conflicts with other family members and unhappy memories from childhood may trigger bouts of the blues.

Major depression, though, can occur for no apparent reason. It’s important to understand that seasonal depression, caused by decreasing exposure to sunlight, is common during the final two months of the year in the northern hemisphere.

Regular Exercise

Exercise helps to lift mood and burn off the excess energy associated with stress. Don’t neglect your exercise routine. If you do, you can feel even greater stress and fatigue.

Avoid Overeating, Overdrinking

With all the parties and holiday meals, it’s difficult not to eat and drink too much. Too much food and too little exercise can make you feel sluggish. Alcohol is a depressant. Drink too much and you lose inhibitions leading to family conflicts that may never heal.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Stress interferes with sleep. And it’s a vicious cycle. The less sleep you get, the more stress you feel. Try going to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual. Unlike stress at other times of the year, holiday stress by definition will come to an end. When you feel like you’ve reached your limit, relax for a minute and tell yourself holiday stress is temporary.

If You Need Help

If you need help handling the stress – whether it’s during the holidays or any time of year – your first stop should be your Providence primary care provider. Your primary care provider will make an initial assessment of your overall health and suggest further treatment that might include counseling or medication. If you don’t have a primary care provider, call Providence Medical Group to make an appointment at the clinic in your neighborhood

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