In general, the holidays can make the winter months some of the most stressful of the entire year. The pressure of keeping the house clean for hosting, spending money on gifts and travel, and seeing family and friends for the first time in a long time can all contribute to this holiday stress.
According to a report from the Harvard School for Neuroscience, 62 percent of Americans report an “elevated” level of stress during the holidays.
Not all stress is bad, however. Stress, in small amounts, can be a motivating factor that increases productivity. However, when stress builds to a level that overwhelms, risks to your physical and mental health start to mount, according to the National Institute.
Here at FHE Health, we want everyone in our community and beyond to be able to protect against the lasting damage to their health that stress can cause. Here are 10 strategies to avoid being bogged down by stress over the holiday season.
1. Get Holiday Shopping Done Early
Financial stress is a major factor around the holidays, and between reserving travel accommodations and gift-buying, you may have to tighten your belt more than you may have anticipated. Financial stress is heightened when there’s an element of panic involved, which is why saving all of your shopping for the last minute is a bad plan. Instead, start thinking about gift ideas months in advance and buy them as you find low prices, spreading the holiday financial burden over a greater period of time.
2. Don’t Feel Pressured to Over-Consume
Alcohol consumption is one of the defining qualities of most people’s holiday gatherings, from the night before Thanksgiving being named the heaviest drinking night of the year to events and festivities highlighting seasonal beverages like holiday ales and eggnog.
This can present pressure to keep drinking whatever is put in front of you, which can cause problems. Drinkaware, a UK-based alcohol support system, reports that continued alcohol consumption can lead to potential mental health risks, including anxiety and depression.
3. Keep Some Free Space on Your Calendar
While it can be fun to constantly see family and friends during the holiday season, a packed itinerary isn’t always conducive to your mental health. While activity can be fulfilling, it also pays to keep some days completely free during the holidays. Even if it’s as rare as one day a week, the value of relaxing and recharging your batteries cannot be understated during the holiday season.
4. Don’t Break Habits That Are Working
The holidays are full of parties and events that may ruin routines. Yet, routines are often what keep us grounded. If a routine is working it’s important that we continue it, even through the holidays. Identify the important events and meetings that you need to attend to keep a semblance of normalcy in your life. If you create too much distance in your life from the events and people you know are healthy for you, you may find yourself adrift.
5. Keep Nutrition in Mind
Many people don’t consider the effect of the so-called “holiday diet” on their mental health as much as they do their physical figure, but the constant intake of high-fat foods that are common during the holidays can do more than just pack on the pounds.
According to WebMD, your diet can have a major effect on your ability to cope with stress, and more nutrient-rich foods can help fight the stress inherent during the holidays.
6. Don’t Forget to Be Generous
Ever wonder why Mr. Scrooge is so unhappy? Selfishness, as it turns out, doesn’t pay: charity can actually benefit your ability to fight off the negative stress of the holiday season.
According to US News, generosity is able to satisfy the reward system that your brain uses to regulate dopamine and endorphins, making you feel tranquil and satisfied. This can go a long way towards giving you the positive feelings needed to counteract stress.
7. Make Sure to Keep Support Close
Having the support of a community at your back is necessary, no matter what the circumstances, but in high-stress holiday situations, having support to fall back on is important. Whether yours comes in the form of a 12-step addiction recovery program, a therapist, a support group, or simply close family and friends, having a group of people that have your back through anything is one of the best assets to manage stress, especially when stress threatens from a variety of different directions.
8. Don’t Feel Obligated
Holiday obligations can really weigh on you, especially when you’re making plans to visit with family members. Family gatherings often bring tension to the forefront — political and religious disagreements are common at dining room tables around the country.
As explained by Psychology Today, tension with family around the holidays is a major source of stress, and can potentially deal even more damage: fear and aggression are emotions that signal danger to your brain, making you more susceptible to anxiety or panic attacks.
If you have a supportive group of friends, consider spending more time with them than with certain members of your family this holiday season. In the long run, it’s better to avoid interactions that are nearly certain to add more stress to the equation, even if it means disconnecting from some members of your family.
9. Make Time For You
Everyone has something that helps them relax when they’re feeling stressed. Maybe it’s going for a nice, long run to clear your head, playing an instrument, picking away at a puzzle, or planning a project. Whatever works, make sure you make time for this important stress relief when the stress starts to build.
We’re often told that “me time” is selfish, that you should avoid putting yourself first. Not so, says WebMD. Taking just a few minutes a day to do something that makes you more relaxed and happy can significantly increase productivity and overall mental health.
10. Take Preventative Measures
Adopting these creative holiday stress management tips before the stress becomes overwhelming — rather than waiting until you’re frantic from stressors coming from all angles — is a great way to ensure that you provide for your mental health in an effective way, no matter what else is happening in your life.
With more credence being given to mental illness in the medical community, it’s time for everyone to become more aware of how to prevent mental illness. The holidays can be very rewarding and enjoyable but also very stressful — if you feel that you or a loved one are having difficulty coping with the stress of the holidays, learn more about the mental health rehab programs and services offered at FHE Health.