Reduce Holiday Stress

By Cindy Clemens, Life Coach

CindyClemensHoliday times are historically one of the most stressful times of the year for most people. What is for many a joyous, happy and/or spiritually-based time often is comprised of frantic activities, shopping and gastronomic marathons and an increase in both stress and illness. The following tips can help reduce the stress and prevent accompanying low energy levels that lead to susceptibility to illness, the “blues,” fatigue, irritability and generally a negative holiday experience.

1. Manage Your Time — Don't Let It Manage You

Decide what your priorities are regarding holiday events such as parties, family functions, gift buying, cooking and all other related activities. Put them in order of priority and give yourself an “ample” time deadline for each thing. DO NOT wait until the last minute unless absolutely necessary or it will be hard for you to not feel pressure and stress.

2. Do Not Over-Commit

Learn how to say "no," with a smile and firm conviction. You only have so many days and hours to squeeze in family, friends, business get-togethers, gift buying, food preparation, gift wrapping, traveling, packing, etc. If you can spare some time to help others, fine. Make sure you have plenty of time to get your things done first however and that whatever you commit to is within your physical and emotional abilities. If you find at the time a party or other event comes up that you feel very tired or even ill, cancel or ask for help. Don't play “superman/woman.” Holidays are to be enjoyed. “Less is often more” and will also often be of higher quality.

3. Don't Take “Token” Time Off Work

Unless your profession requires you return to work the day after a major holiday, take an extra day or two if the holiday doesn't spill over into a weekend, to recoup your physical and emotional strength. "Happy" times are every bit as stressful as sad or unpleasant events. Don't be fooled by thinking that holiday events cannot be very draining. If you work for yourself and plan ahead to do it, take 2-3 days after a major holiday to catch up on sleep, clean up your house and travel home in a relaxed time frame.

4. If Possible, Don't Spend Holidays Alone

Holidays are not happy times for some people for various reasons. If you live alone and dread the holidays or a particular holiday, spending it alone will usually add to you feeling depressed and very isolated. Whatever uncomfortable feelings you associate with a holiday will be exacerbated by spending it alone. If you have friends or relatives, see if you can join them for a part of it. If not, volunteer your time to work at a food center where the holiday dinner is served and prepared. Whatever you can do to get the focus out of yourself and the “past,” the better off you will be. While it is fine and healthy to remember events or lost loved ones on holidays, it need not be either a negative or the entire focus of the holiday for you.

5. Avoid or Be Very Moderate with Artificial “Stress Reducers”

Most holidays include the sharing or offering of alcoholic beverages. Since for many people alcohol is one way to combat stress and even despondency, it is wise to limit your intake if you wish to limit your stress. Alcohol actually is only a “temporary” stress reducer. In large amounts, or in combination with a lot of chocolate and caffeine-laced food and drinks, it can actually cause your adrenal glands to secrete more adrenaline and other “stress hormones,” causing you to feel worse than if you had nothing to drink at all. Since alcohol is also a “depressant,” it will increase the feeling of being "low" as well. Drink with food and pace yourself. The best stress reducers are laughter, listening to and/or singing music, helping others, being loved and sharing love and, for many, communion with their church or faith through private or public ceremonies and events.

6. Accept Your Limitations

This is tough to do, since we often want to do all kinds of things on a holiday and don't realize how much time and energy it will take from us in the end. Think about what you really have to do and really want to do. Then think about what you realistically have adequate time and energy to do. Follow those guidelines and you will perhaps do less and not see as many people, write as many holiday cards, or cook as many cookies or pies, but you will be much less stressed and enjoy the holidays considerably more. Simple concept. Put it on paper and stick to it.

7. Help Others/Volunteer

This is especially good for the person who lives alone or is all alone as far as family and friends. New in town? Volunteer to work at a local church or shelter to help feed the homeless and the poor. Create your own sense of "community" by being with people who are also alone and, in most instances, far worse off than you physically and financially and perhaps emotionally as well. The more you give, the more you will get back in blessings and good feelings yourself. It may not happen the same day or all at once, but it will happen. When you see that the best gift you can give is yourself, your spirit and spirits will rise and be reinforced with a warmth and strength which is better and longer lasting than any gift or holiday party.

8. Prepare For Events In Stages

If you are going to be cooking for a large group on one or more occasions, shop ahead and prepare what you can ahead of time, whether it is the day before or the night before. Many types of casseroles, baked goods and snacks can be made 1-2 days in advance and kept fresh in a freezer or refrigerator in sealed containers or their own cooking dish. If you have 100 cards to be addressed and mailed, block off 15-30 minutes every day to work on them starting 2-3 weeks before they need to be mailed. If they are custom cards, order them so you get them in good time to address them without rushing. Shop all year around for gifts. When you see a sale, look for possible gift ideas and put them away until the holiday comes. This alone can save much time (and money). And you avoid the holiday crowds in the stores and malls. Cutting up your work in blocks of time instead of doing it all at once (with some exceptions gifts-wise and food-wise) can cut your stress level by a large amount.

9. Be Yourself: Drop Expectations Of Yourself And Others

Every holiday is different and each year the experience you have on the same holiday will vary. Placing expectations on yourself to cook the perfect meals, go to all the parties, pick the right gifts (in the right sizes and colors) and to be entertained and to entertain everyone you are with, is a setup for stress and disappointment. Plan what you want to do, do things in your own way and accept the outcomes. You always do your best at the time. Your motives are good and loving. Accept that you will never be all things to all people and realize that is the nature of every human. To try and be the perfect hostess or host, buy the perfect gift and plan the flawless get-together is not realistic. Be thankful and grateful to be able to do what you can do with the people you care about and love and let it go at that. Stress and post-holiday blues set in when we are overly stuck on how people will respond to our food, our gifts or even our presence. Keep in mind why the holiday originally was created or named as a “holiday” (holy day?). Have fun in your own way, respect others to do the same, take it a minute or an hour at a time and both your happiness level and your holiday experience will be enhanced and will not feel like a chore or an annual struggle or obligation.

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