As November approaches, the holiday season is getting closer. For many people, this time is filled with happiness and excitement. For others, it’s synonymous with stress and extra responsibilities.
The good news is it’s possible to make this holiday season the way it should be--joyful and full of celebrations. If you worry whether you’re going to make it out alive this holiday season, there are many things you can do to lessen anxieties around holiday preparations.
Keep on reading to learn about the top five ways to manage holiday stress.
1. Let go of high expectations
We all want a holiday straight out of a commercial – immaculate house, laughter in the air, and picturesque decorations. However, with our daily commitments and so little time, it’s impossible to achieve perfection. To ease some of the holiday stress, it’s important to accept that having high expectations won’t do you any favors.
During the holiday season, it’s difficult not to let yourself fixate on upcoming celebrations. It might seem a good idea to grit your teeth and give in to the stress. While humans can generally survive everything when there’s an end in sight, it doesn’t mean exerting yourself too much is healthy. If you don’t let your mind rest, your anxiety will only increase and might turn into chronic stress that doesn’t go away once the celebrations are over.
To ease some of the stress off, start practicing mindfulness. It’s an approach that makes you feel grounded by calming your mind and bringing your focus to the present. Firstly, concentrate on your breathing and let your mind wander but instead of engaging with thoughts, simply observe them. Next time you’re doing housework, try to focus on the task at hand without thinking about the upcoming holidays. This will help you take some pressure off and reduce the time spent worrying.
A holiday season might be a double challenge if your workplace is organizing an event. Luckily, it’s possible to get through this without developing mental health problems. The key is to be realistic about how many tasks you can handle and learn to say no. It might be tempting to agree to one more request to please your boss or perhaps take some weight off your colleagues' shoulders but it’s important to put your health first. If you have too much work to do, you won’t be able to get enjoyment out of the holidays and might end up feeling overwhelmed.
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The holiday season is an opportunity to spend more time with your loved ones. Instead of trying to make everything perfect, lower your expectations and focus on enjoying the process and the anticipation. Remember that life can be unpredictable, and things don’t always go according to plan. Additionally, your family members might have a different idea of what holidays should look like. They might be used to different traditions or want to do things differently this year. While some people might manage to meet everyone’s expectations, you shouldn’t see it as a failure if you don’t.
2. Make sure to include self-care in your routine
As joyful as the holiday season is, it involves a lot of planning and possible disagreements. As you’ve learned from the previous tip, it’s impossible to please everyone. Still, when things don’t match your vision of a perfect holiday, it might be nerve-wracking. Luckily, there are ways to make the holidays happen, keep the stress at bay and take care of your wellbeing.
The most important resolution you should worry about this year is making sure you prioritize your health. From now on, every day is a self-care day. Make it your aim to include a relaxing activity in your schedule. It could be listening to your favorite music or treating yourself to your favorite food – it doesn’t matter what it is if it makes you forget the stress and puts you in a good mood. However, remember there’s a difference between self-care and relying on distractions.
Alcohol and an unhealthy diet might seem like a great way to take the edge off but will have consequences later. Stay away from anything that can impact your health negatively and learn to relax. Practicing relaxation techniques will ensure you have a safety net whenever stress takes over. One of the best techniques is imagining yourself in your happy place. Close your eyes and visualize such a place. Pay attention to the surroundings, notice the smells and sounds, and focus on the way it makes you feel.
To protect your health at work, make sure you take frequent breaks. Aim for at least one 15 minutes break every two hours and go for at least one walk per day, even if it means a trip to the cafeteria to get your lunch. Ideally, you should be able to step outside and spend some time around nature. Moving releases the feel-good hormones that can help you relieve some of the tension.
Lastly, remember not to work overtime unless it’s necessary. You could even suggest that your company develops a strategy to maintain employees’ wellbeing. Holidays are the busiest periods at most companies but without employees performing at their best, they can’t hit their targets.
Try not to let the preparations take your attention away from what really matters. When there’s so much to do, it’s easy to start seeing holidays as something to tick off a list but they’re mostly about family. Make sure you spend quality time with your family that’s not necessarily related to holidays. Sure, shopping trips to buy decorations are fun but how about a board game night or going for a walk?
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3. Plan ahead
The holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year. The first step to avoid mental exhaustion is making sure you’re prepared ahead of time.
There’s nothing more reassuring than making a list. Write down everything you must remember about this holiday; from shopping lists to people you want to invite. Putting a stressor on the paper can train your mind to leave worrying for later. Once you’re done listing out the tasks you have to complete before the holidays, try to cross out the ones that aren’t necessary. Do you really need to cook dinner yourself? Do you really need that shopping trip to buy new decorations? Additionally, plan what you’re going to do each day; for example, you can devote one day to sending out cards and the other to buying presents.
If you’d been asked to plan an event along with usual work duties, prepare a schedule in advance. Make sure to take one thing at a time to avoid exhaustion and ending up working overtime. If possible, ask your boss about holiday plans of time to know what to expect and don’t be afraid to let them know if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Discuss the expectations early on and learn to compromise. If you’re planning a big family gathering, chances are some family members might not make it. If you’re married, your partner might want to spend the holidays at their parents’ house instead of your parents’ house. It’s important to plan these things early to avoid unnecessary conflict and disappointment.
4. Focus on enjoying this holiday season
Holidays are about celebration more than they’re about logistics. Yet, many people associate them with a lot of stress. If you want things to be different this year, you have to work on changing your mindset.
Do you know that stretching your lips in a smile can put you in a good mood? Setting an intention to enjoy the holidays has a similar effect. While getting enjoyment out of madness might be far from realistic right now, it’s possible to shift your perspective. Start by practicing positive affirmations. They’re statements that can be repeated daily and meant to manifest positivity.
Additionally, notice how your thoughts turn negative whenever you’re stressed. How often do you tell yourself you hate the holiday season even if it isn’t necessarily true? How often do you put yourself down for not completing all items from your to-do list? A mind is a powerful thing and repeating a thought over and over will condition it to believe it.
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Apart from practicing affirmations while you’re at work, it’s important to remember what you love holidays for. Is it giving gifts? Sharing moments with other people? Whatever the reason is, try to incorporate it into holiday preparations. If you notice that your colleague is overwhelmed by work, lend them a hand (if it won’t make you exhausted in the process). Alternatively, you can express empathy whenever they share a problem or offer to help to find a suitable present for their loved one.
With all the holiday madness, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is lucky enough to have someone to spend holidays with. To become more appreciative of what you have, keep a gratitude diary. The aim is to reflect on the good things going on in your life and train your brain to look for the positives. You can start by listing simple things, such as the weather or eating nice food, and then listing people you appreciate having in your life. It doesn’t matter what they are but aim to include at least a few per day and see how your mindset changes.
5. Don’t spend over your limit
Whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness has never overseen holiday preparation. Unfortunately, overspending and a lack of funds are the most common reasons for holiday stress. It’s easy to feel pressured by society and our family to make the holiday celebration perfect but not knowing your limits will come at a cost.
Look through your bank account and come up with a holiday budget. Try to write down an estimated cost of each item on your to-do list and eliminate those that aren’t priorities. If some are too costly but you feel you can’t get rid of them, try to find cheaper alternatives. For example, if you need a new dress for New Year's Eve, try to look at second-hand shops or even consider wearing something you wore in previous years. Instead of doing shopping at one of the popular department stores, consider buying decorations online. No celebration is worth putting yourself in debt. If you’re a reckless spender, you can set a bank account exclusively for the holiday season to keep yourself in check.
While being generous towards your colleagues is a great idea, make sure it doesn’t make you go over your budget. If your company plans a secret Santa, suggests a lower spending range, or even making the gifts yourself, it’s also okay to refuse to join holiday socials to focus on your family or to have an early night.
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Buying gifts might be the most nerve-wracking part of holidays. You might worry you won’t meet your family’s expectations and put yourself in debt in the process. A good idea is to discuss your concerns with your partner and try to set a spending limit. You could even tell your kids that this year holidays are being done differently and you’re going to gift them with quality time. Take them to see Santa or go for a short trip. Remember, time spent with loved ones and fond memories are what make the celebrations so magical.
Don’t let the holiday stress kill your joy. You can survive this holiday season without becoming chronically stressed and dreading celebrations next year. Focus on what’s the most important; your health and your family and keep yourself sane by taking care of your wellbeing. Lastly, make sure you plan way in advance and don’t take on too many responsibilities.
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About the Contributor
Joanna Cakala is a multilingual writer based in the UK. Combining a degree in Psychology and passion for writing, she started her freelance journey penning articles on mental health.