Alas, the holidays have arrived. This time of year can be so joyful, even magical. Family gatherings. Cooking and baking family favorites. Seeing the glee in the kids’ eyes. It’s all so joyous. But there’s also a dark side to the holidays. The one that we often try to ignore – yet it creeps up on us unexpectedly year after year after year. The holidays can bring us some of the most memorable experiences of our lives, but it can also carry its own fair share of problems. Yes, I’m referring to the old familiar Holiday Stress. It lurks at every turn. Gift giving. Card sending. Carol singing. Hustling and bustling. It can leave you feeling just exhausted and scattered at times! So how do you destress during the holidays for a joyful season?
But regardless of what’s “stressing” you during this holiday, keep in mind that you have a great deal of control over all of this. Taking a step back from the stress can be one huge key to saving your sanity. Here are 12 ways to do just that.
12 Ways to Destress During the Holidays
1. Start holiday shopping early this year.
Don’t delay. Get your shopping out of the way sooner than later. This can help you beat the stress on a number of levels. First, you avoid battling it out in the aisles of Target with other last minute shoppers. Second, you won’t make last minute “impulse buys” and other last-minute shopping mistakes. Last, shopping early allows you to set a budget that you can stick to and not go overboard as we tend to do when we wait until the last minute.
2. Get adequate rest.
The holidays tend to get everyone so excited, and for good reason. But sometimes amidst all the excitement, you may forget to allow your body to have the proper rest it needs. Lack of sleep puts your body under stress. Late night parties. Staying up to catch up with visiting family members. Losing sleep due to traveling. Or losing sleep because you’re just plain excited! It’s easy for your sleep pattern to be thrown off during the holidays. Whatever the reason, remember to focus on what your body needs on a consistent basis, and that’s plenty of rest. So allow yourself to start winding down in time to have a good night’s sleep. Getting less than 7-9 hours of sleep on a regular basis will allow stress to creep in before you even know it.
3. Delegate tasks.
Do you tend to take on more than your fair share of responsibilities? Well, if you’ve been put in charge of too many different things, it’s time to get some of that stress off your shoulders. Delegate some of the tasks that are bogging you down and raising your stress level this season. Asking for help is a good move, and will help you to enjoy the season and not feel like it was all a big blur.
4. Don’t disregard “me time.”
It’s easy to forget to take time for yourself during the holidays, but don’t! Although it’s time to show your appreciation and love to others, this doesn’t mean you should push your own needs aside in the process (or frenzy as some refer to it!) Set aside time for you to relax and unwind. As the old adage goes, you can’t take care of anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself – which means tending to your own health and well-being.
5. Be prepared for the repeat “offender.”
Remember last year when “Aunt Sally” made that comment AGAIN about your career choice, and you thought you were going to lose it (or maybe you did!?) Well, remember that the family members and friends that you choose to celebrate the holidays with are probably the same this year as they were last year. They haven’t changed, and neither have their mannerisms. So, while some families have harmonious holiday celebrations – not all do. If your holidays are prone to clashes, conflict, or confrontations (and you still choose to celebrate them with the same group of gatherers, be prepared! Before you head off to that dinner, remind yourself that you’ll be the bigger person and not cave into the comments. After all, you don’t want a comment from another person to dictate whether you enjoy holiday events.
6. Stick to your exercise routine.
Sometimes the enchantment of the holiday season can throw off your usual routines. While taking a break here or there from your meditation practice or workout routine won’t drastically affect your fitness level, it might affect your stress level! So try to keep moving during the holidays to stay in touch with your fitness goals and help reduce some of that stress.
7. Keep an eye on your plate.
The holidays wouldn’t be the holidays without some goodies and treats to enjoy. But at the same time, it’s a good idea to stay in control. Remain mindful of what is going onto your plate and into your body. Consuming large amounts of certain foods can definitely affect your body, your moods, and your stress level. The two biggest culprits during the holidays are caffeine and sugar, so keep those to a minimum. If you’re going to indulge, at last, make it worth the extra calories!
8. Treat yourself too.
You’ve probably been making your list and checking it twice for what you’ll buy for everyone else. But there’s nothing wrong with buying yourself a little something too. As a matter of fact, when you do this you’re assured to get exactly what you want. Physical gifts are not the only ones though. Consider the gifts for you like a massage to help you relax and relieve some stress.
9. Take a timeout.
Just as you do at work (or I certainly hope you do) take a break every so often from your frenzied holiday tasks and just chill out. Before the stress starts to simmer and reach a boiling point, take a break. Find a nice, quiet place away from all the noise to sit or rest. Take a few deep breaths and allow your body to relax and reach a state of calm. Making it a point to take these regular breaks allow your mind and body to relax, and the stress and tension to dissipate.
10. Have a few good laughs.
Relieve your holiday tension by maintaining a good sense of humor. If the holidays are starting to get to you, have a good laugh. Whether you put on a funny cat video or laugh yourself to tears at a comedy show, or read the funnies, laughter has many health benefits including boosting your immunity and reducing stress. So don’t be afraid to laugh out loud this season.
11. Remember to eat.
During the holidays, you might be worried about overeating or over-indulging in unhealthy dishes or treats. But sometimes it’s more likely that you’ll forget to eat altogether. You may be so hurried and harried trying to multi-task that you forget to nourish your body regularly. This can be easily avoided. Remember to shop for healthy foods and snacks and eat small, healthy meals throughout the day. Avoid letting your body become run down and depleted by planning ahead and keeping healthy snacks within reach.
12. Remain agile.
You probably have a vision in your mind of how your ideal holiday will unfold. But we all know that things don’t always go according to plan. Keep in mind that certain things will not fit your model of the perfect holiday or perfect event. When you allow yourself to be flexible with the outcomes you anticipate, you’ll reduce your stress greatly. If something goes “wrong,” it’s definitely not the end of the world. It’s simply another holiday memory that you’ll have for a lifetime!
Holiday stress can make its impact and catch us off guard in several different ways. After all, holidays have been known to divide families. Hugs and laughs are common, but arguments abound during the holidays. Use the tips I’ve shared here to destress during the holidays to enjoy this time of year… on your terms.
Alicia Hyatte is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Family Wellness Expert, and Health Educator. She creates impactful, evidence-based health and wellness content and programs for individuals, families, and communities.