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Holiday stress: How to cope
Holidays are a time of tradition. Customs like family get-togethers, gift-giving and special meals can be the source of joy, goodwill—and stress.
Despite what holiday movies and myths promise, the season brings with it a variety of experiences and feelings—some wonderful and some not-so-wonderful. But while stress is a common problem during the holidays, you can take steps to make sure that it doesn't ruin the season for you.
The untold story
Greeting cards depict a certain scenario—a blissful, heartwarming snapshot. They leave out the less-than-picturesque aspects of the season, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), such as:
- Budgeting for gifts—especially for kids who may not understand how much things cost.
- Stress about taking time off from work.
- Balancing social commitments.
- Tension between family members.
- Long-distance traveling—and travel problems.
- Sadness, loneliness or grief.
Although these sentiments may not make it into your annual holiday letter, they are a normal part of the season.
Bring back the good cheer
Here are some tips from the APA for healthful ways to cope with the stress of the season:
Have reasonable expectations. Unreasonable expectations for the season can lead to disappointment if your holiday dreams don't come true. It can also lead to a kind of post-holiday let-down, according to Mental Health America (MHA).This year, instead of buying into all of the holiday hype, expect things to be both enjoyable and hectic—and know that you can't control it all.
Plan around stress. If you know that certain people or situations tend to stress you out, it's OK to avoid them. You don't have to grit your teeth and fake it, and you don't have to make a scene, either.
Instead, focus on planning things that you find fun and relaxing with people you want to spend time with.
Focus on what's really important. Keep sight of why you're celebrating in the first place. If you can't afford fancy gifts or gourmet meals, that's OK.
Help kids keep perspective, too. Let them know what to expect in terms of gifts and activities, and help them shift their focus to what's truly valuable. Consider volunteering at a local charity to help reinforce that message.
Take care of yourself. Good physical health can help you have energy when you need it. Start by eating well. It's OK to indulge in small servings of special foods, but don't use the holidays as an excuse to binge. Also, try to get some exercise every day—it's a great stress-buster. And make sure to get enough sleep.
Share the burden. Accept help from friends and family when you have taken on too many tasks. If you're feeling stressed, talk about it with people who care about you. The holidays are a great time to strengthen relationships with those you're closest to.
When you're busy with seasonal tasks you may not notice that you feel stressed until you're overwhelmed.
According to MHA, possible signs of too much stress include:
- Getting headaches.
- Drinking excessively.
- Having trouble sleeping.
- Feeling angry, irritable or easily frustrated.
- Feeling overwhelmed or burned out.
- Having problems concentrating or remembering things.
- Feeling nervous or anxious.
- Feeling helpless or hopeless.
Too much stress isn't good for your body, so it's important to pay attention to these signs. If you have coping strategies that are good for you, now's the time to use them. But be wary of unhealthful responses—such as drinking too much alcohol or overeating—and try to replace them with healthier ones.
If you're still feeling overwhelmed, talk with a doctor.