Being happy during the holidays isn’t easy or natural for everyone. For some, this time of year is quite stressful and met with dread. If holiday season stress is bringing you down or even turning you into a curmudgeon, then consider taking a small step or two to make it a happier and less stressful experience.
Holiday season stress can stem from many different reasons — the recent loss of a loved one, financial struggles, anxiety over gifts, fear of gaining weight, actually gaining weight, body image struggles, loneliness, undesired socializing, family drama, meal prep, traffic, hectic schedules, additional responsibilities, changes in our routines, pressure to appear happy, and more.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests — stress and depression. And it’s no wonder. The holidays often present a dizzying array of demands — cooking meals, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few . . . But with some practical tips, you can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.”
Tips to Decrease Stress and Increase Your Happiness this Holiday Season
Plan in advance. While there may be bumps in the road, you can plan how you’ll approach the holidays and how you’ll handle some surprises. Planning early on will help you prepare, know what to expect, space out responsibilities, and set boundaries.
Create a realistic schedule. If you cringe thinking about how you will make it all happen or will juggle visiting family and friends, build a schedule that works for you. Overloading yourself to please others will most likely not bring you joy. Ask people to schedule events on other days or different times to meet everyone’s needs.
Opt out, or cut back. Whether due to scheduling conflicts, being stretched too thin, wanting to avoid drama, or other reasons, you can consider declining unwanted invitations or lessening your exposure to them. If possible, respectfully decline excessively stressful gatherings and events. If you feel obligated to attend, set an end time for when you will depart and inform the host in advance, so your early exit will be expected.
Make a budget, and stick to it. Whether you can figure it out in your head or need to create a spreadsheet, review your finances and decide how much you will spend on holiday meals, gifts, travels, and clothes. Find the best deals to get the most out of your money. As you make your purchases, keep track to help you stick to your budget. Plan for a few unforeseen expenses, too.
Ignore the Joneses and their social media feeds. While you may be inspired by seeing some of the good deeds people are doing or you may find some great new recipes, endless scrolling on social media — where many people will be showing off their gifts, lavish meals, new outfits, and relationships — may not have a positive impact. While we’re at it, remind yourself that more than 70% of images posted to social media have been altered in some way.
Understand your eating habits and needs. If holiday meals and snacking between them is a source of stress for you, plan as best as possible. If you’re hosting, make sure you have food you’re comfortable eating and avoid serving your triggers. If you’ll be a guest, remind yourself that these are limited moments and what happens during them doesn’t define you. Consider bringing both a dish and a dessert that meets your needs and you like.
Set aside time for breaks. Often, people don’t take breaks, because they feel they don’t have time or they want to push through, resulting in excessive stress, aches, and exhaustion. If you’re standing during meal prep, getting off your feet — even for a few minutes every hour — may alleviate pressures on your joints and body. If you’re visiting store after store in search of gifts, then pausing for a cup of coffee, smoothie, or other favorite beverage can give your body and mind the respite it needs to recharge. Build breaks — even short ones — into your plan, and remind yourself to take them.
Create happiness boosters. Engage in activities that are personally meaningful and pleasurable. Choose experiences that will energize your spirit. These activities can last for a few minutes or several hours. Happiness boosters can invigorate, motivate, and inspire you.
Ditch perfect for good. Not everything you do needs to be executed to perfection. Think about what you want to accomplish during the holiday season, and consider which items do not need to meet your perfect expectations. Then, plan what you could do instead, still delivering good results. Replacing perfectionism with an optimal approach can reduce stress and frustration, and may increase focus, energy, and available time for more important tasks.
While we’re no longer surprised when we hear holiday tunes in local stores or see fancy latke recipes soon after fall starts, the elongation of the season can also add to stress levels, if you don’t take steps to counter them.
For some people, the holiday season is the most stressful time of year, but we can take steps to shake off stress and even avoid some of it.
Wishing you and your family a very happy and less stressful holiday season!