Managing Stress Over the Holiday Season (Part One of Two)

Regardless of your cultural, traditional, or religious beliefs; the holiday season is about togetherness and joy. But what happens when the sought-out feelings of joy are overtaken by the burden of stress and angst because of all the expectations, responsibilities, and duties that come with the season?  Are you a perfectionist that feels that everything has to be just right or else the holiday festivities will be disastrous?  Or are you the person who feels that they have to be everywhere and see everyone within the few days that most of our jobs allow us off to celebrate?  Or even still, are you the person that has gift lists that are bigger and longer than your budget will allow; yet somehow you feel you have to make it happen?  I don’t know if any of these sounds like you, but I know that I used to be that person (and sometimes allow that person to creep back in from time to time); however, there are steps that you can take to help decrease and/or eliminate stress and make this holiday season one of increased happiness and joy; just as it was intended to be.

Remember Your Values: As stated before, many of us have varying beliefs and upbringings; which creates (or created) how our holiday was spent.  It is important that the purpose of this time is not lost in the hustle and bustle of shopping and over-extending ourselves, but is instead reflective of our values.  For some, maintaining long-standing traditions is essential; while for others, creating and navigating new traditions is important.  Tradition is a beautiful thing as long as it does not overwhelm and consume you.  Letting go of feeling that you have to be perfect can also eliminate the associated feelings of stress and/or guilt for failing to live up to unrealistic expectations.  Don’t forget to value your values this holiday season!

Family Dynamics: With those traditions comes the awesome (or exhausting) task of deciding how to spend your time with your family members.  It was all so simple when I was a child because I just went where I was taken and saw who I could see; however, as an adult who moved away and is now married, it is difficult to incorporate every family member into one or two days and ensure they feel special.  Consider also that there are family members that are; well let me just be plain here, difficult to deal with and cause headache and heartache every time you see or speak to them.  It is important to set healthy boundaries in these situations for your sanity and wellbeing; as well as to maintain joy and not “go to blows” this holiday season.  Remember that you cannot control what others do or say; however, you can control the space that you allow as well as your response.  Minimize the time spent with less than jolly (see also: hateful) family members if you can; however, if the visit cannot be avoided, try to stay away from topics of conversation that have caused hurt feelings in the past.  Do your work towards letting go of long-held grudges and forgive; not for the other person, but for yourself.

Remember Past Holiday Stressors: Maybe you waited until December 24th last year (and all the years prior) to do your Christmas shopping only to be met with extreme anxiety and anger inducing crowds; got all the way home and realized that you forgot tape.  Or what about that time when you tried to drive out of state to your relatives’ house on Christmas morning only to be delayed due to a winter storm that made you late for gift exchanging, dinner, and family pictures. Or you had every intention to spend equal amounts of time with your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, etc. and none of them share the same household.  Reflecting over what caused intense stress in prior holidays can help you to plan to avoid some of these issues with the coming holiday.  Instead of waiting until the literal last minute to do your shopping, do a little bit throughout the year.  If it is the chaos of the mall that causes your anxiety to rise, use online shopping instead of hitting the mall (but be mindful of shipping and delivery projections, shopping ahead of time will decrease the likelihood of your package not arriving on time).  Ensure that you have everything that you will need for packaging and wrapping beforehand (enough gift bags, wrapping paper, tape, etc.) and prepare/organize a box that you can keep these items stowed until the next year.  Be prepared for unexpected situations associated with travel; pay attention to the weather, ensure your car has had proper maintenance (if you are driving), and allow extra time to accommodate for other last minute travelers.  With trying to see every family member in one day; be okay with not being able to.  I know that sounds easier said than done; but sometimes you may need to say “no” this occasion and “yes” on another occasion to reduce some of the stress.  Or if possible, see if certain family members can gather in a common place to minimize your (and possible their) holiday stress.

To be continued…

Check back later this week for Part 2 of Managing Stress Over the Holiday Season

Be well, happy, and joyful this holiday season!


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