December is National Stress-Free Family Holidays Month, and it’s easy to see why an awareness campaign is needed around this time of the year. While it’s considered a time to gather and celebrate with family and friends, there are so many potential sources of tension that can arise. As we’ve covered before on this blog, stress can have long-term effects on both mental and physical health. That’s why we wanted to share a few tips for reducing stress this holiday season.
Manage Your Expectations During the Holidays
It’s easy to get carried away in planning for the holidays but getting too wrapped up in creating the “perfect” experience can end up causing so much stress that you aren’t able to enjoy the celebration. Here are a few tips on how to manage your expectations so you don’t get overwhelmed.
- Before you get started, make a budget. With inflation continuing to affect American households, it’s more important than ever to spend within your means. Set a limit on how much you’re willing to spend (with a little bit of wiggle room) before you start selecting gifts, so you don’t find yourself stressed about money at the end of the year.
- Plan your errands and shopping trips or shop online. It’s easy to overcommit when shopping for gifts, sending packages, and stocking up on staples for holiday meals. Try not to leave all your tasks till the last minute and give yourself a few days in between so that you don’t feel rushed. Avoiding peak shopping hours (such as evenings and weekends) can also make errands less stressful. If you don’t have time to shop in person, ordering online can be a good alternative.
- Leave time for self-care. In the midst of your planning, don’t forget to leave yourself time to take a break! Whether it’s sticking to a gym routine or setting aside half an hour at the end of the day to dig into a good book, remember to prioritize your own well-being during the holidays.
- Approach yourself with compassion. It’s okay if you don’t manage to get to everything on your to-do list. Often, we’re much harsher critics of ourselves than we are of the people around us. Remember to be kind to yourself and congratulate yourself on doing your best.
Dealing with Difficult Family Members During the Holidays
Another major source of stress during the holiday season can be spending time with family who you might not see eye-to-eye with. In these situations, it’s crucial to set boundaries so that you can enjoy yourself and avoid conflict.
- Try to steer conversation away from stressful topics. For example, if you know that you and a relative have very different political beliefs, let them know that you don’t want to discuss your differences. Try to change the subject to a lighter topic if you can.
- Give others the benefit of the doubt. When everyone is stressed by the holidays, it can be easy to assume the worst of those around you. If someone says or does something hurtful, take a step back and try to be objective. Did they do it on purpose? Is there another explanation for their actions? Taking a few moments to calm yourself before reacting can help avoid arguments and make the holidays more relaxing for everyone.
- Know when to put your foot down. Of course, sometimes there really is no compromising with family. A family member may be abusive or there may be a fundamental clash of values that is impossible to overcome. If previous attempts to communicate your boundaries with someone have failed, it’s OK not to go to a family celebration. Make alternative plans, such as visiting with a different relative or spending time with friends. If you don’t have anyone else to celebrate the holidays with, consider volunteering or joining a local community event instead.
Holidays Can Bring a Sense of Grief
For some people, the biggest source of stress during the holidays is grief. If you’re used to spending the holidays with a particular friend, family member or even pet and they’re no longer around, significant anniversaries can be difficult to deal with. Existing symptoms of depression and other mental health issues can be intensified. If you’re struggling with holiday grief, here are some ideas to manage it:
- Remember the good times. While your loved one may be gone, the memories of times spent with them will always be with you. Take some time to share your favorite memories with the people around you. If you’re a creative person, you can write about them or make an art project in their memory.
- Approach traditions in the way that makes sense for you. While some people may find comfort in recreating traditions that held importance for a loved one, others may find them too painful to enjoy. If you’re struggling with the idea of participating in an old family tradition, try to create a new way to celebrate.
- Practice healthy coping strategies. Holiday celebrations may have a variety of temptations such as sugary foods or alcohol. While these are fine to enjoy in moderation, overindulging won’t make the pain any easier to deal with and can have negative effects on your overall well-being. Other distractions, like playing board games, going on an outing with family or even watching a classic holiday special on TV, can be a better way to manage difficult feelings.
If someone in your life is struggling to cope with grief, check out our recent article on how to support someone who’s grieving. If you are personally struggling with grief, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.