Managing Stress Around the Holidays
It’s the most “wonderful time of the year.”
Many people look forward to the holiday season and the start of a new year. It often provides an opportunity to take some time off and spend quality time with friends and family.
While the holiday season can be a fun and joyous time, it can also be very stressful. Family, cooking, eating, shopping, attending social events, and entertaining guests can quickly become too much to handle. Though the holiday season can be a difficult and stressful time, there are several ways to minimize stress and anxiety so you can thoroughly enjoy this festive time of year.
A few ideas to try and alleviate some of the seasonal stress include:
Setting YOUR priorities.
Pick a few favorite activities and really enjoy them with the family and then, skip the rest. There is no need to drag yourself or your family from event to event. Think quality, not quantity.
Taking shortcuts and finding ways to simplify.
If you are entertaining a house full of guests, buy some prepared foods, instead of cooking or baking everything from scratch. Ask others to bring appetizers, desserts, even side dishes. Consider forgoing actual holiday cards this year and go digital. Email and post your “card” to your social media channels.
No holiday celebration is perfect. View any missteps as opportunities to be flexible and resilient. Tangled lights or a burned turkey won’t ruin your holiday - while maybe a disappointment for this year, it will likely create a funny family memory. It’s important to keep everything in perspective. If something goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world. Try and remember the good things you have in your life and recognize that this situation will pass.
Clearly state your boundaries.
With family and friends, it’s important to be aware of your limitations. If you haven’t let others know what you will and won’t do, it’s time for you to make your boundaries clear. Just because you have done something in the past does not mean that you must continue to do it. Times change, other responsibilities may take precedence, or it’s just not possible – that is ok.
Think back to previous years and try to pinpoint how much togetherness you and your family can take before feeling negative stress. Can you limit the number of parties you attend or throw or the time you spend at each? Can you limit your time with family to a smaller timeframe that will still feel special and joyous, without draining you?
Holidays are stressful for people for whom seeing their families for long hours is difficult due to complicated relationships. Holidays are also a time when people remember family and other important life events, so it can be tough for people who have lost loved ones. All of these dynamics can increase the stress factor, and stress is a well-known trigger for depression.
Chronic stress in particular increases risk for major depression, but even acute or short-term stress can be problematic. For some, the holidays bring on the “holiday blues.” Feelings of sadness, loneliness, and anger can intensify when contrasted with the joy expected of the holiday season.
So how to cope with the holiday blues?
- Acknowledge your moods; it’s okay if you don’t feel like celebrating.
- Spend time with people who care about you.
- If finances are a stressor or a concern, set a realistic budget and stick to it.
- Maintain healthy habits: eat right, exercise, and make time for yourself.
- Volunteer your time to help others. Spending time with those in need can help you feel less isolated.
- Avoid drinking alcohol to ward off negative feelings. Alcohol often will make depression worse. Stay active. Exercise and maintain a healthy diet.
- Try to appreciate the good things you have now instead of focusing on the past.
This holiday season, make sure you allow time for yourself. Remember to do things that you enjoy. Don't over-schedule yourself and be sure to allow enough time to relax and recover after a social event. Reflect on aspects of your life that give you joy; go for a long walk, listen to your favorite music or read a new book. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries. Be mindful and focus on the present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
Most importantly seek professional help if you need it.
- Written by Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., President & CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.
Looking for more resources on anxiety and stress?
- Ask an Expert Q&A about how to alleviate stress
- The Importance of Taking Vacation Time to De-stress and Recharge - Read blog entry
- Stress, Anxiety and the Holidays - Read blog entry
- Everyday Mental Health Tips - Read blog entry
- Webinar recording: Neurobiology of Stress, Depression and Antidepressants: Remodeling Synaptic Connections
- Webinar recording:Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges