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How to Manage Stress During the Holidays

Halloween has come and gone, and the holiday season is upon us. Stores begin to bombard customers with holiday-themed merchandise, neighbors put up twinkling lights, and friends and family ask about our plans. Additionally, any travel or visitors serve as a reminder that flu, cold, and COVID-19 season is again in full swing. All of this can feel overwhelming as we become aware of countless looming tasks and responsibilities as the holidays get closer.

This fast-paced season tacks on even more to our overloaded to-do lists. While focusing on meaningful connections with family and friends is the ideal way to celebrate and take in the holidays, it’s not unusual to become overwhelmed. We may succumb to the pressure that comes from taking in too much social media, comparing ourselves to others, and find it difficult to say no to children and loved ones.

What can we do to mitigate stress during the holidays, and ultimately take care of ourselves? Seeking support from others, such as coworkers, friends, and family, is one of the most powerful tools we can use. Talking to others helps to put things in perspective, and also reminds us that we aren’t alone. Delegate tasks when needed. Take time to think about what your priorities are, and practice saying no and setting boundaries.

Engaging in mindfulness practices is another data-supported tool to utilize during the holiday season. Practice putting your phone away during get-togethers with friends and family and focus on what’s happening in the present moment. Further, doing one thing at a time can help reduce stress. Rather than multi-tasking (i.e., wrapping gifts while watching a movie and catching up on emails), experts recommend focusing on one task at a time. Sit down to watch a movie with your family, or focus on wrapping presents, and try to avoid lumping together multiple tasks.

If making decisions is already difficult for you, this likely skyrockets during the holidays. In the age of the internet, leaning on research and reviews may give the illusion of providing help, though data shows it actually doesn’t and leads to information overload. Instead of spending hours reading through every review and scouring the internet for all possible options, practice setting timers and forcing yourself to make a decision. Remind yourself that we can’t know everything, and we don’t have to know everything in order to make an intelligent decision.

Grief can hit especially hard during the holidays. Giving yourself permission to feel, and taking time to process emotions is important. We are all unique and grief looks different for each of us. Finding ways to make the holidays enjoyable is beneficial, as is creating rituals. Rituals underline important moments, they help us remember, they’re shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and they also help to create new beginnings, allowing us to move forward in our lives. Holiday rituals where we participate with others provide a sense of connection and community that feels especially powerful when we’re going through a period of grief.

This time of year, parents are reminded of how stressful the holidays can be for children. Naturally, managing your own stress is an excellent practice to make things easier for kids, particularly because of how powerful modeling healthy behaviors is. Watching a parent who prioritizes sleep and self-care has a different effect than that of an exhausted and burned out parent. In addition to caring for yourself, ensure that you’re keeping routines the same as much as possible, and manage expectations. Comparison is something that we all naturally do, so hearing about other kids’ holiday might give your kids unrealistic expectations. Letting them know what to expect generally, while still keeping surprises intact, reduces the likelihood of disappointment, contempt, and tantrums.

If you find yourself so overwhelmed that it’s difficult to function, or you’re unable to enjoy yourself, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Even a handful of sessions with a mental health professional can make a difference in relieving holiday stress, giving you additional tools to navigate this busy time of year.

At THLH we are here to help. Reach out if you would like to schedule some sessions for around the holidays.

Author: Dannica L. Conley, M.Ed.

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