People young and old look forward to the holidays, but once the festivities draw near, the things we eagerly anticipated can become major stressors. In fact, an estimated 80% of Americans expect to feel stressed during the holidays. There are holiday parties, out of state trips, inclement weather, gifts to buy, dinners with family or friends, and maybe a few traditions that you’d rather skip. All of these things can fray your nerves and turn joyous holiday festivities into taxing holiday pressures.
Stress can lead us to eat or drink more than we normally would, which can become its own source of anxiety. Stress also takes a toll on more than just your waistline, it can impair your immune defenses and makes it harder to stay healthy during winter. In fact, people who suffer from constant stress are more susceptible to viral infections like the flu and common cold.
To avoid letting these pressures ruin your holiday spirit, planning and stress management are essential. You can only do so much, focus on what’s achievable and enjoyable.
Common Holiday Stressors
The social obligations, trips, pressure to buy, and family visits may all be sources of anxiety. We all know what it’s like to be pressed for time and money, and extended impositions by houseguests don’t help. Social and family pressures abound during the holidays and can grate on your feelings of hospitality or weaken your willpower at the dessert table. Let’s look at some of the most common sources of holiday stress.
Budget and Unrealistic Expectations
For many, consumerism is a major part of the holiday season. Whether you participate in the spending free-for-all a little or a lot, it’s a reality. In fact, 9 out of 10 people plan to buy something solely because of the holidays. That’s not inherently bad, it’s emotionally rewarding to give gifts and, for many people, generosity is how they get into the holiday spirit. The problem, however, is when the budget ends and overspending begins.
The holidays are a sentimental time and reflecting upon the past is to be expected. For many people, memories are bittersweet. It’s nice to remember friends and family from days gone by, but those happy memories may be clouded if those people are no longer with us. And, sometimes going home for the holidays stirs up memories of old conflicts that, left unchecked, might be at the forefront of your thoughts this holiday season.
The winter blues can be exacerbated by short days and long nights. If you’re skipping your after work exercise because of the cold weather or dark evenings, you are missing out on the psychological benefits of working out. The shortened period of sunlight might also cause you to experience seasonal affective disorder, or the appropriately abbreviated SAD. This disorder is actually a type of depression characterized by a range of symptoms that accompany changes in weather.
Every January, gyms and health clubs offer membership discounts and sign-up specials to take advantage of the New Year’s resolutions-makers’ desire to get back in shape. All of the parties, sweet treats, and cocktails can weigh heavily on you in more ways than one. Winter weight gain is a major cause of anxiety, especially if you’ve already gained a few before the holidays even arrive. Family members’ not-so-subtle comments about weight are often the last thing we want to hear at the dinner table.
Work Environment and Deadlines
A toxic work environment or multiple pressing deadlines to meet before the end of the year can prevent you from enjoying the holidays as you would otherwise. Working in retail or sales is especially stressful with the long holiday hours, contentious customers, and the pressure to meet quotas.
Oftentimes, we’re expected to do things that we’d rather not participate in because of tradition or obligation. Yes, these things may bring us together with extended family, but they’re not always easy. Unexpected or last minute guests can exacerbate tensions further.
Best Tips for Managing Holiday Stress
Many people experience extra stress this time of year, make sure you anticipate and account for the anxiety or emotionally trying events that may arise. Your health status and attitude are powerful predictors of your holiday experience, so make an effort to stay on top of both your physical and mental well-being.
1. Set Realistic Goals and Expectations
To mitigate the stress of gifts, set a realistic budget, make your list early, do your research, and shop online. The retail store madness isn’t worth the stress of going out after work, fighting for a parking spot, and contending with long lines.
Set realistic expectations for gift giving. This will alleviate any pressure to spend more than you’re comfortable with. Focus on making the holidays special without breaking the bank.
2. Focus on the Positive and Smile
You can’t control everything, so make a concerted effort to focus on the positive and make the best of things. Whether you’re the guest or the host, make peace with the old tensions that keep you from feeling at ease. Finding common ground is one of the best ways to bond with those who have different beliefs or opinions. Do yourself a favor and avoid hot-button topics, like politics, at the table.
Even if you’re not where you want to be, try to have a good time while you’re there and smile. A little laughter will do you good. In fact, studies show that laughing out loud has real health benefits, so give it a shot.
3. Make Time for Yourself
If you feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to take some time away from the festivities or planning. Holiday parties and preparations can be draining and you can only help others after you take care of yourself. Set aside time to take in a yoga class or meditate. Schedule an aromatherapy massage as a gift to yourself.
If you’re away for the holidays, figure out a way to spend time doing something you enjoy. If you’re at a party and it starts to feel a little too much, find a quiet room or corner. Take deep, calming breaths and focus on being present. You’ll be better equipped to handle social situations when you’re lucid.
4. Sleep Well
It might be tempting to stay up all night while you’re on vacation, but regular sleep must be a priority, even on holidays. Exhaustion makes everything more difficult—from driving to controlling your emotions. Even worse, ongoing sleep deprivation has been linked to heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and kidney disease. Shoot for 7-8 hours every night.
5. Seek Support if Needed
Don’t be afraid to seek help if you are suffering from serious depression. Reach out for professional help or communicate your feelings to sympathetic friends or family.
Exercise is a great mood booster; it’s especially helpful for those dealing with anxiety or depression. Try to get outside in nature for a little air, even a brisk walk can raise your spirits. In one study, participants who went for a 90-minute walk outside in a natural environment had healthier brain activity than those who walked through an urban area. Exercise is great for those suffering from SAD, and it’s an excellent opportunity to clear your head.
7. Stick to a Healthy Diet
Holiday weight gain can be a result of stress or a stressor itself. Though it can be a challenge, you can always make healthy decisions; moderation is a great place to start. Take smaller servings, drink a glass of water before eating, and skip the seconds. If you cook, prepare dishes that are healthful, like this green bean salad recipe. If you’re feeling anxious, try these stress-relieving foods.
8. Remember What The Holidays Are About
The holidays are supposed to be a time of celebration. Spend your holiday time relaxing and enjoying your friends and family. Indulge yourself a little. Relax, hydrate, rest, and have fun. Allow yourself to enjoy the holidays and you’ll look forward to them every year.
From Global Healing Center and I, to you and yours, have a happy, healthy holiday season.
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