The holidays are upon us! Think back to past years... What do you remember the most? Is it the family time? The food? The presents? The movies? The traditions? The crippling anxiety and stress? Yep, you read that last one right. Like anything in life, many people tend to forget the negative parts of such happy celebrations, and in turn, risk suffering the same feelings of anxiety and frustration year after year. Have you ever experienced the “holiday blues” or found yourself dizzy with nerves and exhaustion while on your quest to find the perfect gift or prepare the perfect party/event?
Consider the tips below to help you manage stress and truly enjoy the holidays this year, so those happy memories can be an accurate picture of your experience!
Plan ahead. Whenever possible, give yourself plenty of time to buy presents, prepare a special meal, or decorate your house. If you are not feeling the pressure of the clock, you will have more opportunities to step back and enjoy the process.
Make a to-do list! Yes, I know, we often have a mental checklist of what we need to complete, but having a tangible list can help you organize your time, celebrate the tasks you have accomplished, and allow you to delegate specific jobs when you need an extra hand.
Stressful family? Have an ally! Before attending (or hosting) a dinner, gathering or an event with friends or family, where you know there may be contentious conversations brewing, talk with a friend, spouse or family member about how you want to approach those situations. Knowing you have a game plan and someone who will help you carry out that plan, should you need it, will allow you to attend the social event with more confidence, and less apprehension and anxiety.
Be prepared when you shop. Make a list of items that you want to buy. Compare prices (Amazon’s “scan” feature makes this super easy to price-compare items in the store to online options), use cash (whenever possible) to avoid going over budget, and have a back-up plan for any “tough to find” items. Keep in mind that one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to be fully engaged and present with them. While that gift doesn’t cost anything, it can sometimes be tricky to do if you are hyper-focused on giving them the perfect physical gift and hoping that their reaction matches the effort you had to put in. Ease the gift buying process and enjoy some of the “untangibles” of the season by starting to shop early, create (and stick with!) a budget, and find time to connect with the recipient, whether that is in-person while they open the gift or afterwards over the phone.
Engage in gratitude! Research shows that gratitude can help you maintain a positive outlook, and has benefits for your overall well-being. Throughout the season take moments to stop, take in your environment, and, with intention, consider the things you are most thankful for, in that moment. Also, write thank you notes! This not only showers other people with appreciation, but it gives you a few moments to reflect on the people and the details that make the season so special.
Consider your closet! One of the most unexpected stressors of the holidays can be finding appropriate outfits for holiday parties, luncheons, tacky sweater contests, and family pictures. If you have a few “go to” pieces, that you know you look and feel good in, you will spend less time agonizing over what you are going to wear, and more time looking forward to the event itself. Don’t have anything in your closet? Choose an “off time” to hit the mall/store, such as later in the evening (an hour or two before stores close) or first thing on a Saturday or Sunday. With fewer people in the store, you will feel like you have more time and space to clearly choose something that suits your taste and budget.
Nourish yourself. By all means, enjoy the festive food and drinks of the season, however, be sure to replenish your system with healthy options, whenever possible. Not only will this help you avoid the stress and anxiety associated with holiday weight gain (can you say anxiety in January, when your clothes no longer fit?), but can also help prevent you from exhibiting food-induced symptoms that mimic anxiety (low blood sugar, dehydration, etc). Instead of forgoing the cookies, try to mix up what you are eating by throwing in a few vegetables, such as broccoli and carrots, that are rich in magnesium and probiotics.
Practice Mindfulness! Using an app such as “Headspace” or “MINDBODY” can help calm your nerves, and allow you to remain present and in the moment. These apps make it really easy to choose a time length (some as short as 2-5 minutes) and follow a guided meditation. Don’t have time to stop and fully engage in a mindfulness script? Take a moment to practice 5-2-7 breathing. In order to do this, breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, and release the air completely for 7 seconds. Repeat 4-5 times. Focusing on your breathing can be done anywhere (can you say Black Friday shopping lines?), and is a quick and easy way to de-escalate in times of stress and anxiety.
Talk to someone. While we are often surrounded by people during the holiday season, it can be difficult to talk about feelings of anxiety or stress, for fear of “bringing down someone else’s cheery mood.” Keep in mind that many people struggle at this time of year, so you are not alone! If you don’t have a family or friend that you feel like you can talk to, or your anxiety and stress has become overwhelming, consider calling a professional.
While the holiday season can present challenges that can leave you feeling anxious and stressed, keep in mind that it is a temporary time. By the 2nd week in January, your “regular” life will resume, and all you will have left is the memories of the season. Be sure to check in with yourself regularly to manage your stress and anxiety levels so that the memories you are creating are ones worth repeating!