How to Not Let Holiday Stress Bring You Down
We’re in the thick of the holiday season. Flights are being flown, school is out, prescriptions are being filled at a hectic pace, and we’re waiting for that holiday bonus to kick in.
The holiday season is a time of cheer but also a time of stress. It always feels like everything comes to a head in the month of December: work, school, family life, and even the traffic just becomes a bit more heightened during this time of year.
Though you may be up to your neck in party planning and gift wrapping, remember that the holiday season is meant to be a joyous time. At its core, it should allow you to sit down, put your feet up, and reflect on all the good you’ve done these past 12 months.
Whether you’re spending the holidays in a full house or with a cherished few, here’s how you can alleviate some of the holiday stress this year.
Holiday stress isn’t just an unofficial part of the season. Many studies show the true effects of holiday stress.
In a 2015 Healthline study, 62% of participants described their stress as “very or somewhat” elevated during the holiday.
Participants cited financial demands, less-than-perfect family dynamics, and keeping one’s self in shape as the biggest contributors to holiday stress.
For parents, children’s lofty expectations for the holiday can bring about holiday stress.
In a national poll conducted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, 23% of mothers and 14% of fathers say having their child at home during the winter break causes stress.
Furthermore, 1 in 3 parents are “relieved when their child goes back to school after the holiday break.”
In Harvard Medical School’s blog, “On the Brain,” Dr. Ellen Braaten attributes holiday stress to the increased multitasking we do during the season.
As a result, our brain’s prefrontal cortex goes into overdrive, affecting our memory and the development of brain cells.
In short, holiday stress can do more than just be a lump of coal in our mental stockings. It can severely affect our mental, emotional, and physical well beings.
The bright side of holiday stress is that it’s exactly that: it’s seasonal. The gauntlet of the holiday season lasts for a month — although the New Year brings its own set of chaos.
Because holiday stress is so finite, you can quickly and effectively treat its lingering effects. Here’s how you can destress from the trappings of holiday stress.
Harvard Medical School describes several ways to weather the holiday stress storm.
Among these methods is the act of “shifting set,” which is defined as “a type of executive functioning, a set of mental skills that helps us get things done.”
Shifting set focuses on time management, attentiveness, switching focus, planning, organizing, and remembering details. It’s less of an explicit plan to prevent holiday stress and more of a mentality you can adopt.
Shifting set is all about planning for the worse and hoping for the best. It’s perfect for your inner cautious optimist during the cheeriest and more stressful time of the year.
If shifting set is all about creating a plan of attack for holiday stress, then mindfulness is the more passive equivalent. Remember that the holiday season is supposed to be a happy time full of cheer and genuine gratitude.
That means appreciating the little things in life and taking things for what they are.
Psychologist Rick Hanson describes the act of “taking in the good,” which is all about letting your positive life experiences guide your approach to life. He describes three steps in taking in the good:
Stress is inevitable. You can’t avoid it or get around it. Instead of denying its existence, meet it with curiosity and even wonder. Even the highest levels of stress can bring fragments of positivity.
Time is always of the essence. This goes tenfold during the holiday season. Holiday stress can make you feel like you don’t have enough time to do what you need to do.
Holiday stress can make the holiday season feel like this neverending marathon of meetings, flights, appointments, and obligatory get-togethers.
If only we could give ourselves a day off…
Luckily, sometimes the best solutions are the simplest. Give yourself a day off during the holiday season. This can’t be just another day off to sit on the couch and doom-scroll through social media.
Have a plan of action for that day. Be clear on how you want to spend that day off. It can be devoted to getting all your holiday affairs in order (gift shopping, planning flights, planning that much-needed holiday vacation).
As you head into the holiday break, get ready for what’s to come. Holiday stress is an unwelcome gift this time of year. You can’t avoid the chilly stress of the end of the year, so don’t try to prevent it.
The best solution is to work with what you have and proceed accordingly. Don’t let holiday stress get you down. There are many things, both big and small, you can be thankful for.
Holiday gifts go beyond the material. Practice gratitude, spend some overdue time with old friends, go for a walk, treat yourself — do what’s honest and best for you.