The holidays are upon us. But along with the holidays comes a dizzying array of demands on our time and energy. These demands include planning and preparing meals, baking, shopping, cleaning, attending holiday events and entertaining guests.
This season is supposed to be a joyous time full of celebrations with family and friends. But often, we set impossibly high expectations for our holiday celebrations that cannot be reached, making this one of the most stressful times of the year for many people.
According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of people reported that their stress level increases during the holidays. In another survey, 53 percent indicated that they feel financially stressed by holiday spending. And more than half of the respondents in that survey noted that they had created budgets for their spending.
Stress can ruin your holiday celebrations and harm your health, so it’s important to recognize its presence in your life. Stress has physical and emotional symptoms. Look out for these physical symptoms of stress, which include:
- Body aches and pains
- Headaches, dizziness or shaking
- Chest pain or a feeling that your heart is racing
- Difficulty sleeping
- Stomachaches or other digestive problems
- Sexual dysfunction
Emotional signs of stress include:
- Memory and concentration difficulties
- Mood swings
But don’t get discouraged. With a little self-awareness and planning, you can avoid becoming overly stressed this holiday season. Here are just a few hints to help you handle the high expectations of this time of year and stay mentally and physically stress-free:
- Set realistic expectations. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or repeats of past years’ successes. As families grow, traditions evolve. Choose a few time-honored traditions to carry on and be open to beginning new traditions as your family’s dynamics change.
- Don’t lose sight of what really counts. When you get frustrated by long lines in the stores or heavy traffic, use the time to reflect on the good things that happened to you that day or the many things in your life that you’re grateful for. Make frustrating moments pleasant by looking at the environment around you with fresh, positive eyes.
- Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting with friends and other activities. Plan your holiday menu, make a list and then go shopping to avoid last-minute trips to the store for forgotten ingredients. Consider shopping online to save a trip to an overcrowded mall, which can be stressful.
- Accept that you can’t do it all. There are a million things to do during the holidays and only so much time. Remember that you are only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Acknowledge that you can’t attend every holiday event. It’s OK to say “No” to your neighbor’s holiday party invitation. They’ll understand. They’re facing holiday stress just as you are.
- Don’t overspend. Create a budget and stick to it. Decide how much money you can afford to spend on gifts and food before you go shopping. Set aside the amount of money you’ve dedicated to each person’s gift in an envelope with the person’s name on it and stay within that limit. When shopping, consider leaving your credit and debit cards at home and only spending the amount of cash you have on hand.
- Respond with kindness. You can’t change how others act but you can change how you respond to them. Keep in mind that the holidays are a particularly difficult time for people who are alone. During this holiday season, consider extending a kind act, such as visiting or providing a meal, to someone you know has no family or friends.
- Take care of yourself. Don’t forget your healthy lifestyle habits. Eat right, exercise regularly and get sufficient sleep. It may be a challenge to maintain these habits during the bustling holiday season but taking care of yourself helps keep your body and mind primed to deal with stress. And don’t overindulge on food or alcohol during the holidays. It only causes guilt and adds to your stress.
- Take a break. Take a few minutes for yourself to be alone and recharge your batteries. Go for a walk, listen to your favorite music or read a book. You’ll feel refreshed and others will benefit as well when you’re feeling less stressed and more focused.
- Seek help. Accepting support from friends and family can help you manage holiday stress. But if you feel persistently sad or anxious, depressed, irritable or hopeless, or if you are unable to sleep or perform everyday tasks due to stress, seek your doctor or a mental health professional’s help.