The holiday season is just around the corner, which means you may be more stressed than usual. This may put you in a not-so-cheery mood and can cause others around you to become stressed as well. Lucky for you, we have some tips and tricks about how to manage your stress for the holidays!
First things first, understand that you stress is common and that’s okay! Some stress is important for your body to function; we call this “eustress.” This is the type of stress that comes upon us during an exciting moment or during something new; without this, our well-being can actually suffer. Eustress helps keep us motivated and goal-oriented, and it gives us a good feeling about life. During the holidays you may feel this eustress when you spend time with loved ones, are opening gifts, or possibly even during holiday traveling. Just know that what you are feeling in that moment is exactly what you should be and is an important part of keeping yourself healthy.
On the flip side, “distress” is the kind of stress that we want to try to avoid. Distress often leaves you feeling overwhelmed, uneasy, and can sometimes make you either lash out or even shut down. Nobody wants to feel that way, especially during the holidays. So, in an effort to fill your holidays with only the good stress, here are some tips on how to cope with stress and better manage your stress levels!
1. Avoid Stress Triggers
In order to avoid triggers that cause distress, you have to first identify those triggers; learning your body’s signals of stress is important, too. If you know what causes you stress and how to recognize when it’s affecting you, you can take steps to control your environment and avoid further triggers.
Some of the most common triggers around the holidays especially are smoking and alcohol. Celebrations often come with social drinking, and many people turn to smoking to try to deal with stress (spoiler: not a great stress reliever in reality). For people recovering from an addiction, trying to quit currently, or even just trying to cut back on how much alcohol or cigarettes they consume, being in a situation where others are drinking or smoking can be a trigger on its own.
If you know there is likely going to be a trigger for you at a gathering but still want to attend, prepare some healthier options to divert your attention. If you are avoiding alcohol, bring a non-alcoholic drink like sparkling water or grape juice. If you are worried about picking up a cigarette again, bring a pack of gum to chew instead and keep a drink on hand to pick up instead. Letting your friends and family at the gathering know ahead of time that you are avoiding these products can help, too – others can cut back on what they use around you and avoid offering you something when you don’t want that temptation.
If you aren’t feeling up to a gathering with those triggers around – or if you are stressed out by other factors, like a big crowd – consider organizing a virtual holiday with your loved ones. Another way to avoid any triggers is to opt-in for a virtual holiday with your family and loved ones. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, online gathering has been popular; just because we aren’t at the height of the pandemic anymore doesn’t mean you can’t still use those options. Set up a call via Skype, Zoom, or Facetime so you can still celebrate with loved ones without having to deal with the social stressors.
2. Prioritize Your Health
Holidays are often a time to indulge a bit, but it can be difficult to avoid over-indulging. For anyone trying to lose weight or manage health concerns like cholesterol levels, the amount of food and the lack of exercise around the holidays can make the celebration stressful. Luckily, there are ways to manage stress in a way that prioritizes your health.
If you are trying to watch how much food, especially the unhealthy options, you eat, being mindful while you’re filling your plate is important. Even though all the foods are yummy, make sure you don’t load up your plate mindlessly as you go down the line. Instead, try to balance your plate with more fruits and vegetables instead of just meat and carbs. Limiting the amount of alcohol and sugary drinks you consume can help cut out empty calories, too. If you know you are a snacker, try to pick a chair that’s an arm’s length or two away from the goodie table – out of reach, out of mind! And if you aren’t sure that there will be a whole lot of healthier options at your celebration, you can always bring your own; nuts, fruits, veggies, and even popcorn can satisfy those snacking cravings while keeping you energized.
Though diet is a big struggle at the holidays, it’s not the only one; keeping your body up and moving can be difficult, between long car rides and all that relaxation time. Some small changes can help you stay active and leave you feeling better physically and mentally. Watching the kids open gifts? Try standing up instead of sitting on the couch. Having a social gathering with family? Walk around the room and visit with more than one group to keep you active. Wanting to watch your favorite show? Try a short simple workout while you are watching to keep your mind and body engaged – jumping jacks, squats, or lunges are great in-place options. Kids want to go outside to play? Join in! There are many ways you can stay physically active this holiday and all it takes is a little bit of drive and motivation to keep you going.
Even while indulging, it’s important to stick to some routine to help manage stress and your overall health. That especially includes following any medication regimen you are on. If you know you are prone to forgetting to take dose or have a hard time keeping track, talk to our team about options for making that routine management easier! We can also help you keep you up to date on immunizations, an important part of your healthcare during the holidays. We’ve all brought home a cold from a holiday gathering at some point – make sure you don’t bring something home you could have prevented by getting your vaccine ahead of time.
3. Set Reasonable Expectations
Everyone loves their holiday traditions, but those routines sometimes change with time and other obligations. As kids get older, the family grows and maybe moves away, or even as your financial situation shifts, it’s important to prepare yourself for things to change. You can cause undue distress for yourself by expecting everything to stay the exact same, and that distress can spill over and affect your loved ones.
Leading up to your celebrations, set time aside to talk to those you will be seeing and make sure you’re all comfortable with the plans. Traditions can still be honored with small changes to make everyone have a bit less stress around the celebration. For example, if you have always hosted but it really stresses you out to have such a long to-do list, maybe offer to travel to someone else’s house that wants to host. Dividing up the work of planning and cooking can lower everyone’s stress, too. Talk through where you’re going, what to bring, and how long people will be staying while you plan so nobody is carrying more burden than they can handle. Make sure you are communicating the guest list, too – many families have tension between members, and knowing who you are going to see (or if you want to skip to avoid a fight) is an important part of lowering day-of stress.
Plan for the financial part of the holidays, too! Money is tight for many especially this year, making celebrations and gift-buying difficult. To help ease your financial stress, create a realistic holiday budget that is easy to follow. Calculate how much you want to spend for each person, travel expenses, or any other holiday-related expenses and write it down. Once you create this list, look it over and determine if that is a reasonable cost and adjust if needed. Creating gift boundaries is another great way to help ease financial stress. For example, discuss the number of gifts and the price range with your significant other or family before buying gifts. Setting a dollar limit for each person and reducing the number of gifts can help you save more money. Make this a discussion with your family so that everyone feels like they are part of the discussion and has more buy-in with the changes to tradition. If someone insists on spending more on gifts that what you are comfortable, consider suggesting a fund for education or supplies needed throughout the next year or a donation to an organization you love.
Even with the best plans set and boundaries firmed up, holidays are still bound to come with stress. Following these tips can help you lower the bad stress so you can enjoy the good anticipation of the festivities. Remember that our team is here to support you in any goals you have to better your health. We aren’t here to just fill your scripts – we are a shoulder to lean on, a sounding board, and a great resource for options to better manage your health, including stress levels. The holiday season is especially magical when you are surrounded by those you love and aren’t too stressed to enjoy it!