6 Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

Holidays…they conjure up images of parties, food, family and FUN! But if the holidays are supposed to be so much fun, why do so many experience stress, anxiety and depression during this special time of year?  The reasons are many, from racing to meet the deadline of buying “perfect” gifts to cooking/cleaning for visiting relatives, or for some, feeling the loneliness of not having the obligatory holiday party to attend.

This year, keep your comfort and joy, and ditch the rest. Here are some tips to help you control the holiday season, and reduce your stress and anxiety levels simultaneously:

Don’t be Clark Griswold. Be careful of the scripts you run in your head about your expectations of this holiday season.  There is no such thing as “perfect,” and running with “shoulds” in your head will only lead to increased anxiety and depression.  Catch yourself when your self-talk turns competitive or negative.  Thinking differently about your role and expectations will change how you feel about yourself and this holiday!

Keep a calendar. While some people love the adrenaline rush that comes from running around last minute, for most, this creates high stress and anxiety.  Organizing your calendar while building in time for yourself (think getting enough sleep, taking a walk with a friend, gifting yourself with a massage for all of that backbreaking shopping) will leave you refreshed to enjoy the when the holidays finally arrive.

Set a budget… and stick to it. There is nothing more anxiety-provoking than facing the sticker shock of those post-holiday credit card bills.  Plan your holiday budget in advance and stick to it, even though the temptations are all around you to spend more. Consider starting traditions of exchanging non-material gifts, such as creating “coupons” for babysitting, cooking a dinner, or running errands for an afternoon.

Make your space merry & bright. Visual and olfactory stimulation of your senses help to brighten your spirits and decrease stress. Decorating your home with warm colors, lights and the aroma of scented candles can help lower stress and enhance your mood.

Keep your cool. Be aware of your stress triggers, especially with difficult family interactions that tend to be repeated year after year. Avoid the temptation of feeding into and escalating negative conversations. Change the subject, talk to someone else, focus on your breathing, take a bathroom break.   Find some humor… there is a reason why you only see some of these people only once a year!  Remind yourself that family gatherings are precious and time limited.

Keep up your health routine. The holiday season is a time to indulge in cookies, pies and eggnog… which are high in fats, sodium, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. As much as possible, maintain your normal exercise routine, eat nutritious foods as well as holiday treats in moderation, and be sure to get proper sleep.   It will help you maintain your stamina, a clear head, and best of all, drive away the blues!

When you feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that the holidays are short-lived.  If you prepare in advance of the season with things that you would like to do to make this season special, you will not only alleviate stress, but enjoy yourself in the process!

Lenore Spiegel, Ph.D., is a Clinical Rehabilitation Psychologist at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.

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