Ho-ho-ho-liday stress? Here’s how to avoid it.

November 7, 2018 Providence Health Team

For many of us, the holidays can be a stressful time due to a variety of reasons.

To avoid holiday stress: plan ahead, be realistic with your expectations, be attentive to your health, and recognize your triggers.

We probably all have some version of the picture-perfect holiday fantasy: family and friends gathering in our pristine home for a beautifully prepared, gourmet meal, or kids shrieking in delight as they open decoratively wrapped, extravagant presents. Then there’s reality, which might involve a messy house and overcooked turkey, drama with your in-laws, and an ungrateful three-year old throwing a tantrum because he didn’t get the toy he wanted. Add to all that a maxed-out credit card and an extra five pounds of holiday cookies directly on your hips. 

Bah humbug!

Although the holidays are supposed to be a season of joy, for many of us, this time of year is overscheduled, expensive, demanding, and generally stressful. If you want to avoid the stress and get back to experiencing the true spirit of the season, here are some tips

 Plan ahead. 

 Some advance planning will go a long way. Try some of these ideas to save time and money (not to mention your sanity!):

  • Maintain a master holiday to-do list
  • Create and follow a holiday spending budget
  • Make a list of gifts to purchase
  • Buy gifts from your list throughout the year
  • Shop online 
  • Post a family calendar and keep it updated
  • Plan holiday meals, baking, and grocery shopping
  • Make travel plans and develop packing lists 
  • Set reasonable expectations when hosting out-of-town guests

And while you’re at it, go ahead and schedule some relaxation time just for you. You’ll definitely need a break from all the chaos.

Be realistic with your expectations.

Many of us agree that what really matters during the holidays is enjoying quality time with loved ones. So if the pressure to create those “perfect” holiday scenes becomes stressful and/or feels unfulfilling, simplify your commitments and set some more realistic expectations. 

For example:

  • If you’re overwhelmed by too many events and/or tasks, take charge of your time and don’t be afraid to say no. 
  • If your budget doesn’t support your extensive list of people to buy gifts for, try searching online for gift ideas on a budget; making hand-crafted or baked ones; or organizing a group Secret Santa-style gift exchange, instead of buying individual gifts for everyone. 
  • If meal planning and preparation isn’t your thing, leave the cooking to others and offer to contribute in other ways, like bringing beverages or helping with dishes. 

While there’s no doubt that many holiday traditions are a big part of this time of year, it doesn’t always make sense to maintain all of them, year after year — so let go of the nostalgia, be flexible, and find a realistic balance that works for you and your family.

Don’t neglect your health.

Holiday baking, office parties, and happy hours challenge the habits of even the healthiest eaters. It may seem like holiday indulgences are everywhere, and it can be difficult to find the time to exercise or get enough sleep

  • During times of stress, it is extra important to nourish both your mind and body with healthy foods, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. 
  • While it’s fine for most of us to enjoy some special treats on occasion, try to avoid overeating or excessive alcohol use. 
  • Schedule time to work out.
  • Be sure to get to bed on time and take it easy on the caffeine and energy drinks – they are no substitution for a good night of sleep.

Take care of your mental health, too. Along with physical exercise, consider planning some simple indulgences such as booking a massage, taking a casual walk with a friend, reading a book, selecting some aromatherapy scents, or trying meditation. 

Recognize your triggers.

Anxiety triggers are different for all of us. Be aware of what yours are, and do what you can to avoid them. If hosting a dinner party for your entire family on Christmas Eve is going to make you miserable, then either don’t do it or find a way to mitigate the stress – such as suggesting a potluck menu this year, ordering catering, or eating out.

The holidays can also be a time of loneliness, sadness, grief, or depression. Friends and friends may be located far away, or an extended family visit might create a source of conflict. And, because the holidays often remind us of loved ones who are no longer with us, feelings of loss and grief can be acutely heightened.

When it isn’t possible to avoid your triggers, lean on friends and family for support (both logistical and emotional). If you’re feeling overwhelmed, lonely, or depressed, consider seeking professional help; start with a visit to your primary care provider. Find a Providence St. Joseph Health provider near you:

Also recommended:

A holiday eating guide for people with diabetes

Helping your loved one find joy in the holidays

Managing seasonal depression during pregnancy

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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