Crowded shopping centers, visits from out-of-town relatives and the pressure of preparing holiday meals can all summon one universal reaction: stress. The holidays may be the season of love and celebration, but sometimes festivities can become overwhelming.
“During the holidays, our lives become even more stressful as we try to juggle our usual responsibilities with extra holiday preparation and complicated family dynamics,” says Dr. Maria A. Oquendo, a psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
“Let the gift-giving start with yourself — treat yourself to healthy boundaries, such as a schedule that includes plenty of time for nourishing food, rest and relaxation,” says Dr. Mallay Occhiogrosso, a psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Whether by taking 15 minutes to meditate or being gracious about relatives’ inevitable differences, prioritize wellness and keep the focus on the things about the holiday that really matter."
Occhiogrosso and Oquendo suggest that you try to keep your holiday stress to a minimum this year with the following advice:
- Seek out emotional support. If you have family difficulties, try to plan some time with friends. If you feel isolated, you may want to seek out the support of your community, religious or social services. If you feel lonely, you might consider volunteering your time at an organization you support.
- Take a 15-minute break. Fifteen minutes of alone time may be just what you need to refresh yourself. Try taking a brisk walk around the block. Exercise is a great stress reliever, and a daily dose of winter sunlight can dramatically improve your mood. Meditation is another quick way to sneak in healthy downtime. Free lessons are offered at many local hospitals and community centers.
- Prioritize your time. Understand that you can’t do everything, so choose the things that you can accomplish and enjoy. Get input from your family and friends about what it is they would really enjoy doing this holiday.
- Shop without anxiety. Remember that it’s the thought that counts. Don’t let competitiveness, guilt and perfectionism send you on too many shopping trips. Create a holiday shopping budget and stick to it, so the holiday bills don’t linger after the tinsel is gone. Shopping online can also help alleviate stress for those who find the crowded malls exhausting.
- Ask for help. Getting your family and friends involved in the holiday preparations may alleviate the stress of doing it all on your own.
- Set realistic expectations. Sometimes, expectations for family get-togethers are too high and result in disappointment and frustration. Accept your family members and friends as they are and set aside grievances for a more appropriate time.
- Celebrate the memories of loved ones no longer here. Holidays can also be stressful as we confront the memories of those who have died. This can be a normal part of the holiday experience and should be openly discussed and celebrated.
- Plan ahead. You will have more time to spend doing the things that you really want to do if you set aside specific days for shopping, cooking and visiting friends. You may also want to plan your menu in advance and make one big shopping trip.
- Put it all in perspective. Think about what the holiday really means to you and your family: time together, religious observance, reflection on your life and future goals — let these aspects of the holidays keep things in perspective.
If you find that your depressed mood lingers, consider getting input from a mental health professional. Rates of anxiety and depression peak during the holidays; you don’t have to suffer unnecessarily. Help is available.