The “most wonderful time of the year” can be anything but when an uninvited guest – stress – comes for a holiday visit.
You’ve got shopping to do, a house to clean, cookies to bake, relatives coming to town, and what feels like a million other things to do between now and New Year’s Eve.
Just thinking about it can be exhausting.
The holidays are a time for being with family and friends and enjoying the magic of the season.
Here are 10 tips to help you stop stress from stealing your joy.
Make a to-do list: Like Santa, make a list and check it twice – writing down everything you need to do can help you reduce stress. Staying organized will keep you from doing all of your holiday-related preparation at the last minute and will give you more time to spend with your loved ones.
Step away: If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by the chaos, take a break, even if it is just for a few minutes, and breathe. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful stress-reducing trick because it activates the body’s relaxation response. Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, suggests slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, gently holding your breath to a count of 4, and slowly exhaling to a count of 4. Repeat several times.
Don’t take on too much: It is okay to say no, or to ask for help. Overbooked schedules and too many commitments can make even the most calm person frazzled. Prioritize and delegate tasks to family members when possible to lighten your load.
Create a budget: Money causes more stress than anything else for Americans, even more so than work or family, according to a recent poll from the American Psychological Association. Make a budget for holiday expenditures and stick to it. Overspending during the holidays can leave you with a pile of debt to deal with after the festivities are over, and that’s not a good way to start the new year.
Eat healthfully and watch your booze intake: Overindulgence is a normal occurrence during the holiday season, but minimizing it will help you feel happier and healthier. Studies have shown that high-sugar diets can make you slow and stressed. As for alcohol, well…it may help you relax and de-stress a bit, but it can also loosen inhibitions. The last thing you need is to become impulsive and loose-lipped during Thanksgiving dinner or at a work party.
Make time to exercise: Study after study has shown that physical activity helps us reduce stress, and that sitting too much increases it. Plus, continuing with your gym visits or yoga sessions helps you continue a normal routine, and gives you a healthy excuse to have “me time” during this demanding season. If you are short on time, take a quick break and go for a walk and get some fresh air.
Catch enough Zzzs: Try to get 7 to 8 hours of shut-eye per night. Being sleep-deprived can make you cranky, and no one likes to be around a holiday Scrooge. Also, stress and sleep deprivation may fuel each other in a vicious cycle, which will put a damper on what is supposed to be a happy time of year.
Focus on what matters: Sure, gift-giving and receiving are enjoyable, but focusing on the presence of your loved ones rather than presents can reduce stress. Live in the moment. Cherish the memories you are making with your family and friends. Help others. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Create your own traditions that don’t revolve around material items. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Be grateful: There is always something to be thankful for. Chances are, you are surrounded by abundance. Gratitude has social, physical, and psychological benefits. What better time than the holidays to reflect on all of the good things and people you have in your life?
Stress is contagious, but so is joy. Which will you spread this holiday season?