Although the holidays can be a special time of year, they can also bring increased pressures, demands, and expectations, leaving many feeling overwhelmed. To help you get the most of the season, we’ve compiled a list of ways to mitigate holiday stress.
Anticipate extra errands when planning for guests and gifts and try to pencil time into your schedule well in advance. Expect and strategize for additional deadlines at work before the holiday break. Arrange specialist appointments reliant on extended healthcare coverage well before the end of the year when appointments become scarce. To fight off procrastination, make a list of simple, manageable steps needed to address each task and set reminders in your daily agenda, use visual cues (e.g. on your fridge) if you’re a visual person, or schedule timed reminders in your phone. Many people report feeling a sense of satisfaction and relief when checking off listed items, which helps maintain motivation and organization. Likewise, intentionally schedule extra time for relaxation and self-care activities since they’re likely to be overlooked when they’re needed most.
Mindfulness (i.e. increased awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner) helps us better identify our triggers and manage them before they lead to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. Although it’s a hectic time of year and one of the most common complaints from clients is a lack of time to devote to meditation or relaxation, short grounding exercises can fit into any hectic schedule and can have a lasting impact. For instance, three times a day, take a three-minute breathing space to check in with your thoughts, feelings, and sensations while tuning into the rhythms of your breathing. Use this time to note anything your body is telling you. Have you forgotten to eat properly? Do you need to get some extra sleep? Do you need to fit in a quick walk? If time permits, you can explore longer 10-30 minute meditation exercises. Research has shown that three 15-minute meditations weekly can reduce depression and 30-minute meditations daily have been shown to reduce grey matter and activation in the amygdala, a brain region associated with anxiety and stress. By decreasing our stress hormones, meditation also helps maintain a stronger immune system to help us thrive throughout the holidays.
Anticipate Triggers and Plan Accordingly
With increased social gatherings, the holidays can be emotionally draining. Often various boundary issues come up, for instance, through commonly held customs that challenge one’s lifestyle choices (e.g. typical holiday dinners that don’t accommodate veganism, family members who don’t accept your romantic partner, or a strong emphasis on celebratory drinks, which can be exclusionary to those who don’t drink.) Based on our past experiences, we can anticipate similar situations to come up again and again –especially with family dynamics. Planning, visualizing, and practicing skillful responses (versus reactions) to difficulties helps us remember them at the times we need them most –when we may be too activated to think clearly and make healthy decisions. Learn to set personal boundaries and say no. Saying yes to everything will leave you feeling depleted and resentful. Think ahead and strategize to keep yourself safe. If you’re concerned there might not be appropriate food to accommodate your lifestyle choices at a gathering, bring a dish you’re comfortable with. If it’s triggering to be around people who are consuming alcoholic beverages, bring your own special drink with you, bring a friend you feel safe with, practice assertively refusing offers, or plan strategic exit plans to use should you need them. If you notice yourself becoming triggered during an event, excuse yourself and do a brief grounding exercise in the washroom or leave the situation and reassure yourself that you’re exercising self-care. (Various guided meditation apps can be downloaded on smartphones for mobile mindfulness!)
With so much emphasis on social gatherings, the holidays can also present poignant reminders of one’s lack of familial ties and supports, and romanticized ideologies around celebrations like New Years Eve can have the affect of making one acutely aware of their relationship status (if single). Or perhaps the holidays bring up difficult anniversaries. If you know this is a difficult time for you, build a support network. Reach out to friends, get professional support, or join a community group. Schedule purposeful activities with friends on difficult anniversaries to ensure you’ll have the supports you need. Or find a way to cultivate gratitude. Whether through journaling or sharing with others, research has shown that practicing gratitude has health benefits, such as decreased depression and longer and better quality sleep. Also, finding a way to give back to those less fortunate (e.g. through volunteering) can redirect us from focusing on our own problems and increase a sense of purpose, community, and connection in our lives.
Wishing you a cheerful, healthful, and heartful holiday season,