Christmas stress


Managing Stress During the Holidays

By: Dr. Peggy Malone

We are only a couple of weeks away from Christmas and this time of year for many is massively stressful!

The stress comes from all different directions.  

1) Time: It is a very busy time of year and it’s hard to fit all the things you have to do in the limited time you have. 

2) Money: For many people, this time of year puts a financial strain on their wallets which can cause huge amounts of stress.

3) Family Dynamics: I’m super lucky to have a family that gets along with each other and that I enjoy spending time with, but many people have a huge amount of stress as a result of family dynamics and the obligations that go along with family gatherings at the holidays.

4) Holiday Parties: Whether it’s hosting holiday parties or having the family over for a huge Christmas dinner, the extra things on your to-do list from hosting can be stressful. The other side of this coin is that you may be invited to lots of holiday events and it can be stressful if there are parties every weekend (sometimes 2 or 3 in one day) and you have overextended yourself by saying you’ll attend everything you’ve been invited to.

5) Travel: For many the holidays are a time for traveling to visit family and friends and this can be stressful even when it isn’t the busiest time of year to be on the move.

6) Physical Stress: This is the time of year when we all eat too much, drink to much, indulge in all sorts of extra treats. The regular exercise program often gets thrown out the window, we don’t get enough sleep and we just don’t take care of ourselves in the usual ways. All of these things don’t bode well for a happy healthy person.

Ok so it’s evident that stress can definitely play a role at this time of year.

We have talked in previous posts about stress and how it plays a role in every major chronic and degenerative disease. When you are constantly in Fight-or Flight mode, your body has no time to rest and relax… and shouldn’t holiday time be about taking a break instead of being in a constant state of stress?

Here are some tips to make your holiday time less stressful, more relaxing and even enjoyable!

1) Get Organized and Plan Ahead: The holidays are approaching quickly… don’t just let Christmas sneak up on you. Pull out your calendar and map out all your social commitments to avoid overbooking yourself. Remember that you don’t have to go to every event that you are invited to!

To avoid the financial stress that goes along with the holidays, make a budget and stick with it. Every time you go into a store in the next few weeks you will be marketed to buy everything in sight! If you stick to your plan, you will prevent the tendency to overspend.

Make a plan for menus ahead of time and get as many of your groceries as you can before the rush of Christmas Eve. Just leave your fresh veggies and ingredients for a quick trip to the grocery store a day or 2 before your big holiday gathering.

If you are traveling during the holidays, make a list now of all the things you need to bring. Instead of throwing everything together the night before, start packing now. Get all your travel documents, maps, books/games for the journey etc organized now so you’ll have less to think about when the day to travel arrives.

2) Forget Perfection and Delegate: This is something that can be difficult if you like to be in control or if you like the glory of creating the perfect holiday gathering. Let go of those things! The holidays will come and go regardless of whether your decorations and your dessert are perfect!  

Make a list of all the things you are going to need for your big day and then give everyone that is coming something to be in charge of! This will take a huge amount of pressure off your shoulders as a host so that you can enjoy your guests instead of running around in the kitchen all day!

3) Take Some Time to Take Care of Yourself: This is the thing that always gets put to the bottom of the list so make a conscious decision to not let that happen this year. Book yourself a massage or go get pedicures with a friend. If you plan ahead, these small treats can really make this time of year enjoyable and less stressful! Schedule your workouts with a friend and stick with them. Exercise is often the first thing to go when you are busy.  

4) Eat Before You Go and Don’t Overindulge: When you have a snack before you head to a holiday party, you will be less likely to inhale all the delicious treats at the party! Make a plan before you go as to what you are going to eat. If you know you’d like to have a treat, think about it beforehand and make a plan in your mind. This will give you the opportunity to indulge a little bit in some festive treats without completely throwing away your healthy habits!

5) When you go to a Family Event, Go With a Purpose: The family dynamics that often create stress can prevent you from enjoying the holidays. So instead of just tolerating the time with your family out of obligation, take a few minutes before you go to think about what is the purpose of going. After all, you are spending the time there any way, it might as well be as enjoyable as possible.  

For example: If you decide that your purpose is to help out your mom and make her day as stress free and enjoyable as it can be… this will give you something to think about and focus on instead of arguing with your siblings or being annoyed with your Uncle Ned.  

Maybe you have a family member who you just can’t get along with and you dread being around them. Try this exercise: Imagine that they are wearing a sign on their forehead that says, “I need to feel important”. This will remind you to approach them with empathy instead of annoyance and you will have a more enjoyable time. (They will as well if you do your best to make them feel important.)

If you find yourself feeling frustrated with an interaction with a family member, think back to your purpose for being there. You will be surprised at how this little exercise can make the time with ‘difficult’ family members much easier. And remember this too: You don’t have to attend every argument that you are invited to!

By incorporating these tips into the next few weeks, you should find yourself less stressed, happier and healthier!