8 Tips for Reducing Stress this Holiday Season

All I want for Christmas is…to be STRESS FREE!!!

It is September and Christmas decorations fill the department store shelves.  Children far and wide have started their lists for Santa, mainly because parents have been reminding them that “Santa is watching” for the last few months.  If the thought of these things make you break out in a sweat, you are not alone. For many Americans the “holiday” season can be one of the most stressful times of the year.  In fact, a 2008 poll by the American Psychological Association found that 8 out of 10 Americans anticipate stress during the holidays.

Why are the holidays so stressful?  The holidays present a wide array of demands: office parties, purchasing gifts, baking, cleaning, and entertaining. For many, the biggest source of holiday stress is the obligations associated with family and family traditions. Having such high expectations and experiencing guilt at not meeting them, contributes to the stress and pressure of the holidays.

With the holidays right around the corner, here are some ways to cope with stress and have a pleasant holiday season.

  1. Identify what stresses you out.

  • You may experience vague dread related to family gatherings, but it is important to identify specific stressors. Does the pressure of cooking for 30 people send your pulse racing? Is the idea of facing crowded stores completely overwhelming?  These are specific stressors that can be adjusted for.  Maybe you have a potluck this year, or shop online.  Brainstorm ideas that would lower your chances of being stressed from the beginning. Another great tip is to never try a brand new recipe for a major holiday dinner.  The idea of trying something you have never done, is a recipe for stress and anxiety.
  1. Acknowledge your feelings.

  • Holidays have a way of highlighting what has changed over the last year. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, it is normal to feel sad and to grieve.  You cannot force yourself to be happy, and it is likely others in the family share some of those feelings.  Instead of isolating yourself, share those feelings with each other. It takes more energy to grieve alone than it does to share those feelings. It is ok if you are not in the “holiday spirit” but it is important to communicate that so others know what they can expect from you.
  1. Take back your holiday.

  • The holidays are not going to be perfect. Someone is going to knock over the Christmas tree or burn the turkey.  Many times we feel we get steamrolled by the force of family tradition, but as families grow and change so will traditions.  Choose the ones that are important to you and be open to creating new ones.  Why do things that make you miserable?  Don’t do the same old thing. Figure out what works best for your family this year and do it that way.
  1. Repeat: “It’s not about me.”

  • Sometimes it is hard to return home to our families. It can feel like you never left and it is easy to fall back into family patterns that you experienced as a child.  All of a sudden instead of being a grown adult you feel like a ten year old kid. That is when your brother calls you “selfish and lazy”.  It is easy to take that personally and be offended.  It is important to remember that his comment has less to do with you and more to do with about what he is feeling.  Another way to think about this is “People aren’t against you; they are for themselves.”  Even deliberate actions are not meant to hurt you but to help them.  By calling you selfish, your brother maybe attempting to make himself feel better about something.
  1. Learn to say no.

  • When you are already stressed out and you say yes to everything, you can end up feeling overwhelmed and resentful. If there is an obligation that you are required to attend or is important to you, balance it out by removing something from your calendar. Over scheduling leads to time crunches and keeps you from enjoy yourself. Decide on limits and stick to them.  Maybe you will only visit relatives on Christmas Eve and save Christmas Day for your immediate family.  Maybe you will only stay with your parents for a few nights or attend a work party for a couple of hours instead of all night.
  1. Live in the moment.

  • If you spend all of your time planning and preparing you can miss the little things that can mean the most. If you look back at your childhood you don’t remember the perfectly cooked meals and the immaculately wrapped gifts.  You remember the Christmas that your uncle fell into the Christmas tree and baking cookies with your mom.  Maybe you remember playing games all together as a family or drinking hot chocolate and watching it snow.  Maybe you remember walking through the tree farm and choosing a tree at the furthest edge and listening to Dad grumble as he drug it to the car.  The point is, if you get lost in the organizing you remove yourself from the moments.  Look for ways to simplify the holidays and allow you to participate in the events that are important to you.  Focus on what is currently going on, not what is on your to-do list.  Take a couple of deep breaths and look around.
  1. Give yourself the present of “time to recover”.

  • If you ignore every item on this list but one, let it be this one! The holiday season can feel like “Go, Go, Go” from Halloween until New Years.  Sleep is the number one thing our body needs during busy times. Make getting the right amount of sleep a priority. Don’t make it something you sacrifice. On top of getting enough sleep, allow yourself some alone time to decompress.  Even stepping away for 15 minutes to relax and breathe can help you maintain a lower stress level. Go for a walk, listen to music or take a long shower.  Take care of yourself so you can be at your best. Finally make a few days “Plan Free” days.  Do not schedule anything on these days other than relaxing and recovering from active schedules.  Sometimes families have the most fun on days they feel free to be spontaneous.
  1. Remember stress and depression may be linked.

  • The last thing to keep in mind is that some people are already at a higher risk of experiencing depression. In these cases, holiday stress can be particularly unbearable.  It is important not to write off signs of serious depression as holiday stress. If this sounds like you, consider seeking a professional to help you learn skills to help you manage stress and family issues that may arise during this time.

There is no reason why you can’t enjoy the holiday season.  Try making small changes to reduce stress levels from the start.  If you have less stress to manage, it will be easier to handle situations that may occur.

Happy Holidays from The Cedar Rapids Relationship Center!

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