Although we may be looking forward to spending time with family and friends, the holidays can also come with heightened stress and anxiety. Seeing family members or friends who we may otherwise not see regularly can revive old tensions or unresolved conflicts. Add to that the political divisiveness in our country, financial concerns, and/or heightened expectations for perfection during this time of year, and the pressure can build up. For those of us who are mourning loved ones, the holiday season can also pose specific challenges as we try to move forward despite their absence.
Avoiding overstimulation, anxiety and stress can be difficult, but there are many ways to keep yourself calm and centered. Below are several of my favorites. Try them all out, and see which ones work best for you.
Be kind to yourself. Some of the best ways to avoid self-imposed stress are: don't take on more than you can handle, ask for help from everyone who is part of your holiday, get enough good sleep, avoid too much alcohol, and eat moderately. Not all of these are easy to accomplish (hello, delicious baked goods!), but being mindful of at least one or two of these ideas can be enough to make a difference.
Take time for yourself. Self-care is paramount, even if you find yourself in the position of visiting others or traveling for the holidays. Whatever your stress reliever is during your regular routine—be it yoga or working out or journaling—make sure that you find the time and space to maintain those habits during the holidays. The holiday season raises expectations of spending our time with others, which is, of course, important, but in order to be able to best be there for our loved ones, we need to remember to take care of ourselves.
Don’t expect perfection. Try to maintain a realistic notion of what can and cannot be accomplished during this time of year. The gifts don’t have to be perfect, the meals don’t have to be perfect—the point is to just get loved ones in the same room and to celebrate. Embrace the chaos, ignore that voice in your head that is insisting you do more or be better, and recognize that mishaps are an inevitable part of any day. Accept that it is unlikely that everything will live up to your expectations, and try to view whatever happens as an opportunity for growth and learning.
Get outside. Spending time outdoors stimulates the production of feel-good serotonin and also helps relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which impacts millions of Americans every year. Go for a walk (or a run), or spend a couple of hours at the park. Whatever you like to do, enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.
Stick with your routine. Prioritize your workouts, book club, etc., and don't try to squeeze in more holiday than you can handle. It’s tempting to go overboard and overcommit yourself when there is so much to do, but trying to take on too much can be a recipe for stressing yourself out.
Ditch the phone. Constant text messages, email alerts, and social media usage are not only potential sources of frustration for your friends and family, but can prevent you from fully enjoying the holidays. What better time to turn your gadgets off than during a holiday get-together? Enjoy spending time with your family and friends without worry, and without upsetting your loved ones by staring at your screen all day.
Crank up the tunes. Listen to your favorite music, whether it’s a classic holiday song or that hot new Beyoncé jam. Research shows that hearing music you love can relax blood vessels and increase blood flow. Good for relieving anxiety, and enjoyable too!
I hope that these tips can help you get all of the enjoyment you can during the season while leaving the stress out of it. Happy Holidays!