“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
While the holidays may be wonderful, there’s no denying that November–December can also be the most stressful time of year.
On the home front, you’ve got everything from travels and holiday parties to house guests and a seemingly endless amount of time in the kitchen. And work-wise you may be racing to finish up projects before the end of the year. And then there are the additional stressors: picking out exactly the right present for your favorite sibling, mailing holiday cards on time, another trip to the grocery store because you ran out of vanilla, juggling a mandatory office gathering the same night as your kid’s Christmas pageant, figuring out which light bulb needs to be replaced, and staying within your budget.
Is it any wonder that the holidays have us all searching for ways to calm our nerves?
If the holidays have you feeling more frazzled than festive, we’re here to help! We’ve put together our top ten tips for how to manage holiday stress so you can get the maximum joy out of your holiday season.
1. Set Realistic Expectations
You might have a perfect holiday movie-worthy scenario in your head of how the festivities will go, but are you being realistic? If you set the bar too high, you’ll only end up frustrated and disappointed when your celebrations don’t live up to the picture in your mind.
Be realistic as to what you can accomplish, and don’t get the holiday blues when things don’t go as planned. People change and so do traditions. Your holidays don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful! Accept the holiday’s imperfections; laugh them off when you can. Your good humor can be contagious and reduce everyone else’s stress, too.
And remember that family issues don’t necessarily disappear just because it’s the holiday season. If you have a difficult time being around certain family members , it’s okay to set expectations there, too. Establish time limits for events and visits and leave a party or dinner when it gets to be too much. Your mental health should always be your priority.
2. Stick to Your Budget
Sure, it’s wonderful to find the perfect gift for someone you love. And, it’s tempting to pay a little more than you had planned to ensure it’ll be waiting for them under the tree.
But do you still want to be paying off Christmas debt months from now? No gift, no matter how perfect it may be, is worth setting yourself up for financial issues down the road!
If you’re consistently overspending during the holidays, high stress levels will ultimately find you. In fact, studies show that 42% of Americans say that spending too much is their number one source of stress over the holidays.
So how can you manage financial stress during the holiday season? Start by creating a plan for success.
- Save More: Try to set aside money throughout the year so that when the festivities roll around your bank account has a little extra cushion. Even just saving an extra $25 per month adds up to $300 by the end of the year.
- Spend Wisely: Create a budget before the holidays and stick to it! If you need a little extra help figuring out how to manage your money like a pro, check out an easy-to-use budgeting system. Every dollar will be allocated (don’t worry, you’ll still have “fun” money!) and you’ll ensure you’re not creating money problems down the road.
3. Get Organized
Is the office party this weekend? Were you supposed to send cookies to your child’s school today? What did you sign up to bring for the neighborhood potluck?
When you have so many gatherings and obligations, it’s easy to feel frazzled, totally overwhelmed, or like you’re forgetting… something. And that nagging feeling will just add to your holiday stress!
Get into the habit of writing things down, either on paper or on your phone. Having your holiday activities written down means one less thing for your brain to remember and you to worry about. You’ll be able to see at a glance your activities for the week, decide what you need while you’re at the grocery store, plan outfits, and generally feel like you’re on top of things.
4. Find Some Solo Time
The holidays are about family and friends, but you still need some downtime. Because as much fun as gatherings are, back-to-back social occasions will leave you more tired than usual, both emotionally (meeting new people, making chitchat) and physically (late nights, rushing to a party after work).
To avoid burnout, schedule in some downtime for yourself whenever you can. Savor the peace and quiet while enjoying some of your favorite activities. This can be anything from a hot cup of cocoa on the couch, a walk outdoors, or curling up with a good book or soothing music.
Even if it’s only for 15 minutes, time alone will leave you refreshed and energized for your next holiday event.
5. Stay Active
It’s a little too easy to let your healthy habits of the past 11 months fall to the side during the holiday season. Social obligations can disrupt your workout schedule, making it nearly impossible to head to the gym for your favorite class. And late nights might tempt you to sleep in, instead of going for your morning walk or run.
But physical activity, on top of combatting that extra Christmas cookie, is one of the best strategies for dealing with holiday stress. Exercise lowers your levels of stress hormones. It also helps your body release “feel good” hormones, such as endorphins, that elevate your mood.
If you can’t find time for your usual workouts, get creative. Try a different exercise class, go for an evening walk to look at Christmas lights, or squeeze in a mini-workout before heading to a holiday dinner. Your mind (and your waistline!) will thank you.
6. Say Yes to What Really Counts
The holidays can get hectic, with so many festive activities clamoring for your attention. So how do you juggle them all? You don’t!
When you feel overwhelmed by the whirl of holiday gatherings and gift-giving, it’s time to take a step back and remember what matters most during the yuletide season. Prioritize what’s important to you.
Maybe your annual holiday brunch with your siblings is one of your favorite traditions. Then focus on your time together, and forget about everything else you “should” be doing that day. Or perhaps baking cookies with your grandmother is your favorite December activity. Tell others that you’re unavailable, turn off your phone, take a break from social media and focus on Grandma—and her secret almond cookie recipe.
Remind yourself that it’s okay to say “no” to some activities in order to say “yes” to the ones that truly count.
8. Focus on Inner Peace
One of the most effective ways of managing holiday stress, or any other stress, is with mental exercises that can help restore and maintain your calm and inner strength.
- Practice Gratitude: Try to set some time aside in your daily routine to reflect on what you’re most thankful for. Even better, write it in your journal so you can look back over the week and see all the wonderful things that happened. You can do this when you first wake up to set a positive tone to your day or right before bed for a more peaceful sleep.
- Be Present: Instead of worrying about all the items still on your to-do list, focus on whatever it is you’re doing at that moment. If you’re with your loved ones, place all your attention on your time with them. If you’re at a party, enjoy yourself. Your to-do list can wait until you have time for it!
- Be Kind to Yourself: Cookies will burn. Events will overlap. Kids will suddenly remember a gift for a class exchange. Take a deep breath and give yourself some grace while you handle the situation. You’ve got this!
- Meditate: Even if you can only spare a few minutes, meditating will lower your blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety. It can also help you get rid of a nagging tension headache, which is so common around the holidays. If you’ve never meditated before, you can use a guided meditation or focus on a positive mantra to help you keep your mind clear. Mindful meditation can be particularly effective at helping you stay calm and cool despite the season’s demands. And keep in mind that kids get stressed out during the holidays, too. Help them find their “zen” with mindfulness exercises geared towards the younger members of your family.
9. Stay on Your Usual Sleep Schedule
If your body is used to a set sleep schedule, try to follow it as much as possible during the holidays. This means going to bed and waking up at the same times that you do during the rest of the year, even on the weekends.
When you have a set schedule, you can fall asleep more easily and get higher quality sleep. And when you wake up, you’ll feel more rested and ready to tackle another day of merry-making!
Of course, there will be times when you simply can’t get to bed or wake up at your regularly scheduled time. There’s a lot of joy to be found in staying up late catching up with out-of-town visitors over a cup of hot cocoa or lingering at a holiday dinner with family. But whenever possible, try to stick to your regular shut-eye schedule. You’ll be glad you did when you wake up the next morning bright-eyed and ready for festivities!
10. Ask for Help
Feeling overwhelmed with cooking, baking, wrapping, decorating, and more? Don’t hesitate to ask for help. A lot of times, people take on more than they can handle, either because they want it to be “just right” or because they don’t want to bother someone else.
But the holidays are a time of togetherness! And if you’re running yourself ragged trying to get everything done on your own, chances are you won’t have the energy and focus to really enjoy the quality time with your loved ones you’re working so hard to create.
If you’re creative, you can find ways to do things with others. Instead of rushing to put up the tree before guests arrive, make it a tree-trimming party. Put on a Christmas movie while you and your family wrap gifts (no peeking!). Or turn your weekend into a baking extravaganza with friends, instead of waking up early to get it all done. You’ll get the help you need and make cherished memories!
Don’t let holiday stress turn you from Santa to Scrooge!
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by the flurry of festivities. And it might feel like you don’t have time for self-care and stress management. But taking even just a few minutes per day to incorporate these techniques will help you de-stress and actually enjoy events and activities with friends and family.
Follow some (or all!) of our tips for avoiding holiday stress and you’ll be feeling like your holly, jolly self in no time!
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