It’s easy to understand why people’s stress levels rise when the end of the year approaches. Whether it’s family gatherings, last-minute gift buying or overstretched budgets, the holidays can create a hectic environment.
“We expect the season to be exciting, special and memorable, and it usually is for most people,” says Elizabeth Scott, author of 8 Keys to Stress Management. “But we often underestimate the sheer amount of hours that the holiday activities take out of our schedules, which are often packed already.”
Left unchecked, stress can negatively impact your health, mental state of mind and relationships. In fact, Scott cites stress as one of the culprits for illness, divorce and depression.
She adds that if stress remains too high for a long period of time, it can lower your immunity, making you more susceptible to colds and the flu during the winter months. “Unmanaged stress can lead to anxiety rather than joy, conflict instead of bonding and holiday memories that you’d rather forget.”
But there are ways to keep the holiday cheer. Here are expert tips and strategies to use to relieve some of the pressures that bring on the stress and subsequently the holiday blues:
Stress Fighter No. 1: Set Realistic Goals
Everyone wants to create the perfect holiday meal, find the best presents, send impeccable cards and host a fun holiday party, but the quest for perfection often leads to stress. Setting realistic expectations and enlisting help from others (and even professionals) can help keep your to-do list manageable.
“You don’t have to cook the meal entirely from scratch and you don’t have to find the perfect gift for every single person on your list,” says Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist and blogger for psychologytoday.com. “Keep the traditions that are important to you and have meaning and don’t keep the ones you feel like you are supposed to do.”
For instance, if your kids love one of your home-cooked holiday dishes make just that one from scratch and consider buying the rest of the meal or assigning dishes to friends and relatives. It’s also important to prioritize your party invitations, pick and choose the parties that matter to you and don’t feel obligated to attend them all.
Stress Fighter No. 2: Set Boundaries with Family
One of the best things about the holidays is getting together with loved ones. But that family togetherness can also lead to a lot of stress, especially if there’s any conflict.
While you may not be able to avoid the family gatherings all together, setting boundaries and limiting the amount of time you spend with taxing people can help keep your stress manageable.
Another tip: Bonior recommends coming up with a safe word with a sibling, spouse, cousin or friend that will also be in attendance at a gathering. If a topic or conversation leads to something that stresses you out, say the word and your partner will step in and change the topic before it gets out of hand.
Stress Fighter 3. Make Yourself a Priority
The holiday season is hectic and it’s easy to forget about the things that make you happy while you rush to meet one obligation after another. While crossing off items on your to-do list may be a priority, try and balance your tasks with things that matter to you to reduce your stress level. Experts say actually scheduling time for your priorities, whether it’s going for a run or getting more sleep, you are more likely to follow through on these tasks if they are on the calendar.
Stress Fighter 4: Know Your Stress Triggers and Take Action Right Away
Everybody gets stressed from time to time, so it’s important to recognize potential stressors and be quick to reduce them.
Scott says taking steps before the stress gets too much can make a huge difference on your health over the holidays. “For some people this can mean adding some exercise or other stress-relieving activities to stay grounded. For others, it can mean knowing when to say ‘no’… it can mean having a few healthy stress relief techniques on hand.”