Whatever you celebrate or whether you celebrate, this time of year may be filled with family gatherings, get-togethers with friends, and being a bit busier. Many of us enjoy the holidays, yet people report a significant amount of stress surrounding them. Whether it’s trying to do too much, financial concerns about gift buying or taking time off from work, or potentially (or expectedly) heated exchanges with family or friends, the holiday season can be a challenge, making it difficult to enjoy things as much as we might want to. And on the other side of things, some people don’t enjoy the holidays or just don’t care for them, so this time of year can’t be over with fast enough. Whatever the case, the holiday season is here, so coping or dealing is important and necessary.
This is not the be-all-and-end-all of stress-reducing holiday lists, but here are a few tips you might find helpful:
- Don’t have expectations. Especially if you love this time of year and really, really look forward to it, this is crucial. Whether you’re Clark Griswold or not, our expectations are rarely met when we set them extremely high. We become disappointed, upset when things aren’t perfect, or frustrated when even the slightest thing goes wrong. Instead, understand that things won’t be perfect, and despite any issues or bumps in the road, this can still be a very enjoyable time of year. Enjoy what is, rather than getting angry about what is not or could have been. And if you’re lucky, something that goes wrong will make for a funny or interesting story! (Why do you think people love Clark Griswold??)
- Reduce unnecessary stress. Try not to take on more than you know you can handle or say “no” whenever possible. For example, don’t host a party if you don’t really have the time or money to do it or to do it the way you want to; or don’t agree to attend a party or to bring a really complicated dish if you don’t have the time. And if you expect to be busier with holiday shopping, preparing, or get-togethers, try to reduce other things you may have going on around this time. If buying tons of gifts is stressful, suggest a pollyanna for family or friends.
- Remain neutral. This is one I have been hearing a lot about this year- with the thing that happened last year (the election) and the aftermath we hear about daily… What I mean by this is that it’s a good idea to refrain from controversial topics at family gatherings, holiday parties, and other such events. Sure, some families can have great dialogue about these kinds of topics, but often this material can lead to bitterness and conflict, harmed relationships, or at a minimum, really killing the vibe. I’m not saying to ignore these very important and timely issues and real-world concerns, but Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, or your work happy hour may not be the best time for these conversations. Though I enjoy a good political or religious debate, at least during the holidays I would rather just enjoy my family and friends, some of whom I don’t get to see very often.
- Be flexible. Similar to #1, try to be flexible. Plans may change, people may get sick, or other things may happen that can force you to change plans or for things to happen in unexpected ways. Kids will get sick, families will fight, or people may have to work. We’re not in control of much of this, so try to roll with it and to enjoy yourself anyway. And by doing so, others will enjoy themselves more too!
- Plan ahead. I know some people can’t stop planning, which can be a problem in itself, but I know others who find themselves shopping for last-minute gifts, hitting CVS on the way to a party for a card, or finding on the day of an event that they have nothing to wear. For many, this is their standard operating procedure, but most would admit that this leads to a significant amount of stress as well. Planning ahead can do wonders for stress reduction, and can help you to enjoy events and people more, too. With more going on for most people, it’s even more important during this time of year.
- Don’t overdo it. Given that this is a celebratory time for many, it’s easy to overdo it this time of year- too many or too expensive gifts, too much food, too many sweets, or too much drinking. If any of this seems to get in the way of the good time you’re expecting, consider cutting back or being more mindful of what you’re doing. When it comes to food or drink, there are many strategies you can find online that you can employ to help keep yourself in check- whether your goal is avoidance or just taking it easy. And why do you think gyms get so busy in January or everyone has a resolution to lose weight?? If overindulging in food or desserts makes you feel bad, find some strategies to keep it under control this year. Everyone wants to have a good time this time, so being more mindful can be good for everyone.
- Plan something fun! I have a family and we’re all pretty scheduled. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had ideas to do things, like drive around and look at Christmas lights, go to a corn maze in the fall, or go outdoor ice skating in the winter- that never happened. We have done all of these things, but as scheduled as we tend to be, we’ve found that we have to build these things into the schedule in order for them to happen. We can’t just wait for that one free Saturday with no plans whatsoever- because that pretty much doesn’t exist! And this is true for many families these days. If something like this is important to you- anything fun that you want to do and that isn’t necessarily required or scheduled by someone else- then plan it and make sure to do it. You’ll be glad you did.
- Stay busy- or enjoy the break. This one is more for those who find themselves without as much to do during the holidays, who choose not to get involved, or who just don’t celebrate holidays. If this isn’t a fun time of year or you don’t celebrate, that’s totally ok. Hopefully that means you can stay busy with other things, like hobbies or interests, work, volunteering, or projects. Or, enjoy taking a break from the norm. Take time to relax, and even if you’re not celebrating the holidays, relish in not having much you have to do- especially if being busy or stressed is the norm. Pick up a book, go for a massage, take a long walk, or binge watch all 5 seasons of a show. Whatever you do, fill your time with something positive and you may be less focused on other things.
- Be true to yourself. I thought this was important to add because I know a lot of people face pressure from family and friends during this time of year, and that can take away from the enjoyment. And this pressure can be either said or felt- to get together when you don’t have the time; to have another gift exchange when you either don’t want to or can’t really afford to; or to drink or over drink. If you’re celebrating the holidays, then your goal is to enjoy yourself and to have good memories of it. Being true to yourself can help greatly. Pay attention to when you’re becoming stressed, and say no when you need to, set boundaries with family or friends, and make decisions you will feel good about.
By the way, these tips are not at all unique to the holidays. You can use them all year long to try to make more room for fun or relaxation, to have more realistic expectations for the things you are doing, and to enjoy life more. If you find that any of this is very difficult- during this time or whenever- or that you are not getting the enjoyment out of things that you would like to, consider talking with a professional about it. You can find a referral here if you like. Take care, and whether or not you celebrate, I hope you enjoy this time of year.