Strategies for Managing Holiday Stress
The holidays can be hectic—and tense. There is so much to do and so little time to complete planned activities for this festive season. Between buying and wrapping presents, holiday events (concerts, neighborhood parties, church activities), decorating the tree, entertaining (so much cooking and cleaning, family gatherings and traveling long distances), and thinking about the growing credit card bills, many of us take on a stressful edge.
Routines are off, there are so many expectations, and the ambient stress has a way of interrupting the joy and fun of this special time. And for family members who are struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental illness, it is a very difficult time. In fact, a 2021 survey by the National Alliance on Mental illness (NAMI) revealed three in five Americans feel their mental health is negatively impacted by the holidays.
What is it about the holidays that makes this such a difficult time?
Two main challenges help to create much of the stress. One is impulsivity—the tendency to do things on the spur of the moment with no regard for consequences. The second is reactivity—the tendency to respond with extreme intensity; good things take one “over the top” and bad things do exactly the opposite.
What can I do to stay well and still have fun?
The first step is to think about and prioritize your health (self-care). With the existence of rampant COVID, flu and RSV, carefully choose the crowds you engage with. Be safe and wear a mask, even if you are the only one. It is better to be safe than sorry. Second, plan, prioritize and avoid impulsive activity (this includes spending!). Do as much as possible in advance to use your energy and time for the most important things. Create a shopping list and budget and stick to it—do not procrastinate and then panic or overspend at the last minute.
Are there other survival strategies?
Plan for minimizing a reactive response—plan, prepare ahead, lower your expectations of others, and ask for help when needed. Plan and choose fun events; think about what you prefer to do, and whose company you truly desire. Don’t overdo it; carve out personal time for yourself to recharge or take a break. Include some activities that relax you—book, music, spiritual engagement.
What about family togetherness?
Tell your family and friends how much they mean to you. Consider connecting with those who provide a safe, comfortable space for you to be yourself. Spending time with family is important to most individuals but avoid controversial subjects and try to find common ground for conversations.
A helpful suggestion is to spend real time where you are sharing an activity or interacting like playing games, baking cookies, attending a concert or church service. Activities like this help to establish family rituals that can be done every year and are meaningful and fun. Many families enjoy volunteering together in the community to help others. This choice will teach the value of kindness and helping others during the holiday rather than focusing on parties and presents. That is a perspective we all need. There are many things you must do; make family rituals things you want to do.
After the holidays, now what?
The holidays can be a challenging time for so many reasons and you are not alone. Coming up with a post-holiday strategy ensures that no matter what happens this holiday season, you’ve got your eye on the path ahead. Plan a positive event soon after the holidays, simply review how you are doing and set some new goals. If you overdo it, forgive yourself and take the appropriate steps to move forward. By being mindful of your needs, creating boundaries around your time and energy, and focusing on the good things around you, you can reclaim the holidays and celebrate them on your own terms!