‘Tis the season to be … stressed. If you get overwhelmed, anxious or depressed during what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, you’re not alone. According to a Healthline survey, more than 60 percent of people said their stress level increases during the winter holidays. The most common instigators: finances, family and food (cooking it and the over-consuming of it). The good news: Regardless of how your seasonal stress is triggered, if you anticipate this as an overwhelming time, you also can take steps to alleviate the pressure.
RECOGNIZE YOUR TRIGGERS
You wouldn’t continue driving over the same potholes in a road if you knew of their location. In the same way, you can avoid (or minimize the impact of) those “holiday potholes” with some planning ahead. If it’s the financial pressure that comes with gift giving, set a realistic budget in advance of any shopping—and stick to it. If it’s anticipating difficult family conversations, rehearse how you might address Uncle Bobby or Aunt Sue, or ask a trusted family intermediary for help. You cannot always expect those around you to change, but you can control your response.
SIMPLIFY AND SET BOUNDARIES
Manage expectations—other people’s and your own. Do you really need to say “yes” to each person’s request to host, attend, bake, celebrate, etc.? Do you really need to buy each co-worker a gift? It’s ok to politely decline some invitations and opt out of overdoing to avoid spreading yourself thin and breaking the bank. Time is a precious commodity this time of year, so don’t fret saying “no.” Setting boundaries also extends to social media: If social media has potential to inspire comparisons, negative self-talk and FOMO about what you could/should be doing this holiday season, stop that scrolling.
PLAN FOR SELF-CARE
Plan time in the calendar for YOU. Whether it’s a full day of R&R, or a few minutes each day to do something that nourishes you, don’t neglect self-care during the holiday season. These energetic self-hugs will help you be more present for others and feel less depleted and overwhelmed. Even an extra few minutes in the shower or carrying around your favorite essential oil to breathe can become mini “me breaks” to savor while resetting your sanity.
Remember what makes YOU happy. It’s easy to slip into what neuropsychologist Rick Hanson calls the “negativity bias” of the brain, where our minds become like Velcro for the negative experiences and Teflon for the positive ones. Draw empowerment, motivation and joy from the goodness in your life, no matter how seemingly “small” it might seem in the time-crunched swirl of the holidays. Consider beginning or ending your day by recalling or writing down the people, moments or things that inspire gratitude.
GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK—AND BREATHE
Be gentle and kind with yourself, just as you might be with a small child or pet. Amid holiday requests and yuletide moments, scenarios arise that we cannot predict or plan for. It’s easy to knee-jerk respond and suddenly initiate a new cascade of problems. In these moments, if you cannot step away completely, take at least three very deep breaths before you speak, write that email or Tweet. There’s science behind why it’s helpful: A deep exhale relaxes the vagus nerve, which calms the nervous system. This small act can help to inspire a healthier and wiser response, instead of an emotionally charged reaction.
TAKE BABY STEPS
If you have enough to-do lists and managing holiday stress feels like yet another thing to do, pick just ONE THING. Champion the little victories that result from this ONE THING, and perhaps build upon it next holiday season.
For more advice on how to navigate and manage holiday stress, the American Psychology Association offers a Holiday Stress Resource Center.
Author, Erica Bray, is a mindfulness and meditation teacher trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction through UMass Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness.