How to proactively manage your stress during the holidays
The holidays can be a time of excitement and joy, but for some people, they can be a source of stress. Although mild stress can have benefits, such as boosting brainpower and the ability to complete a task,¹ some stress can take a toll on your health.² In order to maintain optimum health, it’s important to be aware of the particular stressors you might encounter during the holidays. This time of year can mean celebrations and gatherings, but also anxiety, overeating, and pushing yourself too hard.
Research shows high levels of stress can contribute to depression, obesity and heart disease.³ The planning and travel frequently involved in holiday traditions might be unavoidable to an extent, but remember—the holidays should be enjoyable! They shouldn’t cause you so much stress they make you ill. Here are some tips to keep in mind when navigating the season, so you can strike a balance between the festivities and taking care of yourself:
Don’t overcommit. Often, the holidays include invitations to gatherings, social events, and additional travel commitments.⁴ This frequently causes stress for many people. Only take on what you can realistically achieve! Walking to a neighbor’s house for dinner might be much more attainable than flying somewhere, and you can visit your loved ones at a less hectic time of the year to make up for it.
Relax and be social. Memories of years past can sometimes leave us feeling sad if we don’t think this year will live up to those memories. On top of that, the shortened daylight hours can also have a negative effect. But don’t let these things keep you indoors all winter. A nice way to combat the blues is a change of scenery and a cup of tea with a friend. Even 30 minutes of conversation can make a world of difference during the holidays!
Stay positive. It’s easy to think you’re the only one doing all the work during the holidays while others relax and don’t contribute. But negativity is toxic and can quickly ruin relationships and even affect your physical well being. Take some time for yourself to lift your spirits—make sure you get at least one chance every day to decompress and reflect a bit. And remember, don’t try to take on everything on your own! Your friends and family might not want to get in your way, but you can always ask them for help to keep from getting overwhelmed.
Eat consciously. The holidays typically bring lots of traditional and indulgent treats, but your health may prevent you from enjoying foods that others can consume without limit. Holiday dinners are filled with pies, cakes, and other baked goods that are full of sugar. But being health conscious doesn’t mean you can’t indulge. Instead of depriving yourself of all dessert, take small bites and really savor the taste. If you have high blood pressure, try seasoning your meals with spices other than salt. You’ll be surprised how flavorful your dishes can be.
Caring over buying. If your stress trigger comes from financial concerns, then adjust your giving strategy. Try writing a meaningful letter rather than buying a gift for a friend, or spend time makings with your grandkids instead of buying them presents—the memory will last much longer! If distance is a concern, try using video chatting services to connect with loved ones anywhere. Facebook and Google both offer these tools, and there are many other apps that can suit your geographic or financial situation. There are many ways to show loved ones you care besides buying them expensive gifts.
Celebrate the small things. Do you feel like the holidays are too big when it comes to commitments? Why not make this season about celebrating the small things? Have brunch on a Tuesday with a friend—who says brunch is only for Sundays? Is your favorite holiday movie on TV? Snuggle up with your favorite blanket, pet, friend, and some hot cocoa. Some of the best memories are made when we’re doing nothing.
Get outside. You don’t have to stay inside just because it’s winter. Being outdoors can do wonders for your body and mind. Staying active is something you should try to do every day during the holidays—it doesn’t have to be strenuous.⁵ A walk with a neighbor or friend after a big meal or a trip to the park with the family can help burn extra calories. Just make sure to not overdo it and listen to your body if you’ve done too much.
If stress is overwhelming and depression starts to set in, talk to your doctor about other options. The information provided here should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional.
- “MacMillan, Amanda. "5 Weird Ways Stress Can Actually Be Good for You." Health.com. August 18, 2014. Accessed November 30, 2017. https://www.health.com/condition/stress/5-weird-ways-stress-can-actually-be-good-for-you.
- “Five tips to help manage stress”, American Psychological Association, last accessed September 15, 2017, https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/manage-social-support.
- “Frequently asked questions about stress”, American Heart Association, last reviewed 6/2014, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/stress-and-heart-health.
- “Managing Holiday Stress”, Cleveland Clinic, last reviewed 3/16/2016, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress.
- "Holiday Stress? Try Our Top 5 Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season." Healthy for Good. November 8, 2017. Accessed November 30, 2017. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/holiday-stress-try-our-top-5-tips-for-a-healthy-holiday-season#.VvwrSE3JCXg.