Is it really the happiest time of the year? How to Relieve Holiday Stress in 7 Simple Steps

Holiday stress can affect anyone, even children.

There are a lot of expectations around the holidays. Many people associate the holidays with get togethers, rituals, and memories (happy and sad). These expectations can sometimes lead to stress because we have been conditioned to think this time has to be just like last time to be perfect, or we have to go bigger and better. It can quickly become overwhelming to make everything you need to cook and your home look HGTV-perfect. Finding the time to attend every school or family event, or feeling like you’re all alone can cause stress. When you add the financial burden, travel time, the pandemic, and family dynamics- that stress and overwhelm can really start to pile up. Let’s not forget our inner guilt trip we put on ourselves to cram in every tradition and event to make sure each day is memorable for our little ones. 

Finally, the holidays can also be a difficult time of the year for people who have lost friends and family members. The memory of their loss can fuel other sources of stress, overwhelm, and hurt even more.

There are many simple ways to deal with holiday stress, but first you need to understand your stress triggers.

 Do certain situations cause you to feel stressed? When you feel stressed, pause and think about what’s causing it. Make note. The activity you’re doing at the time may not be the cause of your stress. Once you understand what triggers your stress, use these 7 simple tips to de-stress.

1. Plan Ahead

Finding time for all of your holiday activities can make your brain hurt. Or, you may feel extra pressure to get ahead of work so that you can take time off to travel. I always teach my students to be proactive instead of reactive. Going into each day without a plan will without a doubt cause you stress, and stress out those around you.

Balancing multiple people’s schedules is a skill, a skill you can learn. The tool I use for this is time blocking. Time blocking allows you to get a birds eye view of your day and week. You can spread projects out over time, assign tasks to blocks throughout your day and week, and allow yourself the freedom to be present and enjoy all of life’s moments- without nagging regret or worry.

2. Put Yourself First

With such a huge focus during the holidays on giving to others, it can be easy to forget to give back to yourself. Self nurturing will improve your mood, health, focus, and productivity. It allows you to breathe in the oxygen you need so you can breathe life into others. This is especially necessary for people in the caring and giving professions like healthcare, education, and social work. Use time blocking to schedule yourself into your schedule. Too often we fill our time with other people’s wants, needs, and to do’s. 

3. Honor Your Memories

It may be difficult to celebrate the holiday season if you’ve lost someone dear to you or social distancing makes it difficult to spend time together. Reminiscing can be very healing, but be mindful of dwelling on the past and what could have been. We cannot change the past, so don’t spend your time and energy in this life on your past life. Instead, spend this holiday season reflecting on special memories and how you will honor the person you lost or miss by doing something meaningful in their honor. If you’re unable to spend time with loved ones or friends, volunteer your time to a local organization where your smiling face could change someone’s day. 

4. Guilt Free Eating

Indulge in foods that you love, but don’t forget the importance of healthy eating as well. Consider the days before and after events, and plan appropriately. A glass of eggnog, pumpkin pie, or five sugar cookies for breakfast isn’t going to completely derail your eating plan. But, it’s not a realistic way to eat every day during the holidays. Not only will it leave you feeling sick and sluggish, but also the pounds will quickly sneak up on you. Enjoy food guilt free by being intentional with your choices and always be thinking 80/20. 

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No, Set Boundaries

It’s okay to say “no,” and the more you say it, the easier it will get. Say “yes” to the events and things that you know will bring you joy. Say “no” to obligations that you know will cause you heartache, stress, and disappointment. Boundaries are essential to protect your emotional health. Focus on your own behavior. No one else can help you get through a difficult situation except you. Stress and overwhelm are threats to your emotional health, and when we allow others to breakthough into our space we diminish our self worth, leading to more unhappiness. Stop this cycle- set boundaries and don’t be afraid to say NO!.

6. Is it really the happiest time of the year?

This stress actually comes from the pressure to be happy all the time, and we set ourselves up with high expectations, when in reality, it’s not always going to work out that way. When we try too hard to be happy, we make ourselves miserable. Check in with yourself, are you doing things that actually make you happy?? Or are you only doing them because it’s “what happy people do”? Go into this season with a preplanned goal or intention to promote gratitude and demote stress and overwhelm. For this holiday season, your intention will be to notice one thing you are grateful for every day, or to put time and energy into connections who are the most important to you, or to use the time to recuperate from a long year. Don’t get caught up in all the endless to-do’s and stressors. Go into it with an idea of what exactly you want to get out of it so you CAN be happy and stress free. 

7.  Reflect and Recalibrate

“I haven’t accomplished anything this year!” As the New Year gets closer, we begin to take stock of the past months and may feel down over unmet goals. Perhaps you didn’t lose the weight or didn’t get that promotion at work or the garage remains a mess or your files are disorganized.

It’s great to set goals for yourself, but they are not always met within the timeframe we had hoped. Rather than feeling down about what you didn’t do last year, take this time to re-evaluate. Why didn’t these things get done? Are these goals still important to you? If so, what could you do differently in the New Year to meet them? Recalibrate and reenergize by focusing on the future, not ruminating on the past.

The Takeaway

When it comes to stress and overwhelm at any time of year, it’s important to listen to what your body and mind are telling you. If a situation is too stressful, ask yourself why it’s stressful and what you can do to better navigate life’s challenges. What tools, strategies, and resources do you need to be successful? Not only will this help you to deal with holiday stress, but it can also help you better manage stressors throughout the years to come.