The holiday season comes with joy, family and plenty of holiday spirit. But for many people this busy time of the year comes with holiday stress.
Whether you have preexisting mental health struggles or experience seasonal depression, the holidays are a hectic time due to a multitude of different factors. From gift shopping, parties and cooking, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are stressful for anyone.
Combine typical holiday stress with financial strain or the death of a loved one and a combination is created that brings about extreme amounts of stress.
You can’t simply ignore the holiday stress hoping it will get better or go away! You need to start taking care of your mental health during the holidays.
To do that, here are 10 tips for overcoming holiday stress to not just survive, but thrive during the holiday season!
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10 Tips For Overcoming Holiday Stress
Much of the holiday stress many feel is triggered by financial strain. Spending money on gifts, food and travel all add up to a big chunk of change.
Some individuals even go beyond their financial means and end up racking up debt just to buy their loved ones the best gifts.
Instead of maxing out credit cards to make it through the holidays, create a budget. Go over all your financial obligations (like bills). Then figure out with your extra money how much you feel comfortable spending on Christmas presents. Getting your budget under control and not focusing on the material side of the holidays is best for overcoming holiday stress.
2. Set Limits
During the holiday season some people decide to take on too much responsibility. You can only go to so many Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas parties.
There has to be a limit somewhere about what functions you want to attend (and are happy to attend) compared to what functions you feel obligated to attend.
If you mentally feel more stable attending a small family function than a Christmas party with 100 coworkers than go for it! Don’t feel obligated to attend or see anyone that causes you mental stress.
Unfortunately, the holiday season puts strain on people to be constantly joyous and friendly when it comes to social obligations. But is it good for our mental health? Not always.
Instead of attending every party and dinner, pick and choose who you want to spend time with that will not cause you to be overly stressed. Even if that means skipping a social function to stay home alone.
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3. Don’t Overindulge
One of the best things about the holidays is the food. Cookies, candies, turkey, ham… The list can go on and on.
But food during the holidays is a double-edged sword. On one hand you want to taste test everything in sight. On the other, about 95% of the holidays dishes and desserts are unhealthy.
While it’s great to taste and indulge in foods you only make once a year, it’s another to overindulge. That’s why many people’s New Year resolutions are to lose weight. Each person wants to shed off the unwanted pounds they gained during the holiday season.
For some individuals, food is a major stressor during the holidays. Not only does it pose too much temptation, but too much tasty food also tests our self-control.
I’ll be the first to admit that during the holidays, food is a major source of stress for myself. Most of the time I am unable to say ‘no’ to sweets. Then I am left feeling guilty and ashamed about my own lack of self-control. It’s a vicious food cycle of bad decisions, eating and feeling guilty.
Stop the cycle ahead of time by making healthier food choices and eating sweets in moderation for overcoming holiday stress this year.
4. Practice Forgiveness
There’s always that one member in every family you don’t get along with. It’s ok to admit that not every family member is likable. Yes, you may love them… But liking them is a different story!
Whatever your reasons are for not liking someone, it may be time to put your differences aside and practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is not always something that’s easy to do.
It depends on many factors including your temperament and the situation itself.
But holding onto grudges throughout the year will only add to your holiday stress. Why?
Because holding onto grudges is bad for your mental health!
It’s perfectly fine not to get along or like everybody. But when someone hurts you, you hold onto…
Hurtful memories that repeat in your mind
Feelings of resentment and maybe even hatred
Feelings of bitterness
All those raw and intense emotions for one person will only fuel your stress during the holiday season. Get rid of that extra emotional baggage by forgiving!
When you forgive someone, it doesn’t mean they have to become your best friend again. It simply means you’ve released yourself of guilt, bitterness and anger.
5. Practice Saying No
Some people are non-stop busy during the holidays. They attend every party. Bake dozens of cookies. Volunteer for every charity event.
However, you’re only one person. The thinner you stretch yourself and your time, the quicker your holiday stress builds up. Instead of agreeing to do everything, practice your assertiveness and say no.
Although it’s wonderful to give to other’s during the holidays, you can’t forget about yourself. Especially your mental health.
When you choose to say “yes” to everything you are creating a hectic environment. As a result, you will become overwhelmed before an actual holiday arrives.
Don’t do this to yourself. You are only one person and can only take on so much responsibility.
Know that it’s perfectly acceptable to say no to people!
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6. Watch Your Alcohol Intake
Skip the extra glass of spiked eggnog this year!
Alcohol is in abundance during the holiday season. While it’s nice to socially drink with friends and relatives during holiday parties, there’s also a very big downside…
If you suffer from depression, alcohol will only make it worse!
Research shows people with depression who frequently drink are at an increased risk of worse depression episodes. Worse yet… Those worse depression episodes also come with an increased risk of suicidal thoughts.
Alcohol consumption (heavy drinking) is also known for making antidepressants ineffective.
Even if you suffer from seasonal depression (also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder) you need to be cautious with your consumption of alcoholic beverages. It will only make matters worse when it comes to fighting your depression.
You don’t have to completely give up alcohol, just monitor your intake and your depression symptoms to make sure your mental health is not slipping because of it.
While you don’t want to overbook yourself with engagements, it’s also best to plan!
There are three reasons for this:
-Planning prevents double booking social functions
-Prevents you from becoming overbooked
-Helps control feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed
As someone who suffers from anxiety, I’m a planner. I have to plan almost everything. Being able to plan things allows me to control my environment to essentially lower my anxiety.
This may be true for you as well. If you are able to plan any aspect of your holiday season in order to reduce stress, do it!
8. Treat Seasonal Depression
Seasonal depression also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that occurs only during the late fall to winter months. Once spring and summer come around each year the depression lessens or disappears entirely.
Although the cause of seasonal depression is unknown, there are three million people each year who experience it. So if your depression gets worse during fall and winter months, you are in good company.
But that doesn’t mean you need to suffer with it!
There is always medication and therapy to help with seasonal depression, but here are some ways you can start treating SAD right from home:
Light Therapy- Also known as phototherapy. It will naturally increase the serotonin in your brain, thus alleviating depression.
A light therapy box is suggested for morning use when you first wake up. But always consult your doctor for a specialized time of day and length of time spent using it.
Mind-Body Techniques- Also known as relaxation techniques. Here are some helpful mind-body techniques to lower depression:
9. Don’t Focus On Perfection
Holiday stress can be attributed to trying to achieve perfection. Especially if you are the person hosting all the family dinners and parties.
While we all wish things would go smoothly and we did everything perfectly, perfection is a pipe dream. It’s not going to happen because we are human and humans are naturally flawed.
Don’t focus on achieving perfection this holiday season. The decorations don’t need to resemble the décor on a home shopping network. Your dinners don’t need to be Martha Stewart worthy.
Your loved ones will love you regardless! It’s time to let go of perfection and focus on fun instead!
10. Admit Stress To Yourself
Stress is a sneaky emotion. Most of the time stress doesn’t come on full force. It sneaks in and builds up overtime until you eventually reach your breaking point.
For some, feeling “stressed out” is never admitted. They keep going a hundred miles an hour through life. For others, they don’t even know they are experiencing stress.
This season you need to both admit when it time to slow down and recognize stress!
Here’s The Signs Of Holiday Stress:
-Muscle tension (shoulders, neck, lower back, etc.)
If you start to feel any of these symptoms of stress, immediately rethink how much you are taking on in life. Remember, you’re only one person and one person cannot do everything this holiday season.
Stress is a sign your body is trying to tell you it’s time to take a break. Listen to it!
Final Thoughts About Overcoming Holiday Stress
Your mental health is important not just during the holidays but all year long. But the holidays can strain mental health even in the strongest people.
There’s no shame in admitting that holidays are not easy. They’re physically and mentally exhausting for a variety of reasons. I think as a society we try to convince ourselves that the holiday season is nothing but a joyous occasion.
But you and I both know this is not true! The holidays come with holiday stress.
To manage stress you need to start implementing the 10 tips for overcoming holiday stress to increase your mental wellness this year!
Stress, depression and the holidays
8 Tips for mental wellness during the holidays
Holiday depression and stress
Maintaining mental health during the holidays
Alcohol use, abuse and depression
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Stress symptoms: effects on your body and behavior