How to Keep Holiday Stress at Bay
The holidays are here and with it comes a seemingly never-ending to-do list. That can be stressful enough, but if you’re running around after young kids on top of it all, the holidays can sometimes seem downright impossible. We all want to make the season magical for our loved ones but there are just so many hours in a day. How can it all possibly get done?
While nothing can change the length of the to-do list, here are a few tips to help reduce the stress and allow you to enjoy the holidays too!
- First Step – Take a Moment to Breathe. In our rush to get everything done, our bodies often tense up and we unconsciously hold our breath. This not only throws our bodies physically off, but it also muddles our minds, making our to-do list even harder to accomplish. Stop yourself and take a deep breath all the way down into your belly. Fill all sides of your ribcage, taking at least a count of 4 to inhale. Pause for a moment, then slowly release your breath, again taking at least a count of 4 to exhale (if you can go longer, even better!). Repeat 3 times.
- Now that you have slowed your breathing, Discover Your Biggest Source of Stress and Set Priorities. What are you most dreading? Is it something you can just cut out? What are the most important aspects of your holiday season? Is it time to sit together for dinner? Is it a long overdue trip to grandma’s house? Make a list of your most important priorities to help guide your plan of action.
- Set Reasonable Goals. We all want to create the perfect holiday, but not everything can happen. Think about your everyday schedule in addition to the time you have left to get things done. What can you reasonably do without sending yourself straight to the hospital at the end of it all? Take a moment to think of your favorite memories as a kid. Chances are, it wasn’t the Pinterist-perfect napkin holders and place cards on the table. It was probably more experience oriented, like driving around and looking at the holiday lights then stopping for hot chocolate or sitting down to watch a favorite holiday movie by the tree every year or reading a different Christmas story each night until Christmas Eve. Yes, kids are excited for presents and magic, but part of that magic is having YOU by their side!
- Once you know your priorities and goals, Make A Plan. Use a calendar and write on each day what you need to get done – whether if it’s the neighbor’s Christmas party, baking cookies, writing cards, exercising, shopping, taking a drive, etc. Even though you’re adding additional tasks, try to keep as normal a routine both for you and your family as possible. Waking up and going to sleep at normal time, eating your meals as usual, etc. all lends structure to your day and allows your body (and family) to stay in some sort of balance. Using the calendar will allow you to have your additional tasks in front of you sectioned out ahead of time and prove that yes, it can be done in time! It also takes away the stress of waking up each morning wondering what needs to be done. Now you can just get up and go!
- Budget. Plan your spending limit ahead of time and then stick to it!
- Say NO. It’s ok to say no to things. Everyone has a lot going on this month and they will understand if you can’t make, bake, or volunteer for every little thing. Check in with your priority list to see if it will fit in before saying yes.
- Don’t be afraid to Change Traditions. Just because your parents or grandparents did a tradition with you every year, doesn’t mean it HAS to carry on in your own family. Keep the most important traditions to you and feel free to add new ones that will have special meaning for your family. If there has been a change in your family (a new baby, a divorce, a death of a loved one), this can also be a good time to start something new. Finding a new tradition can help heal the hole that you might feel from a missing loved one and create a fresh, positive memory for your family moving forward.
- Get Outside or at least by a sunny window. The natural sunlight will help regulate your body, decrease stress hormones, and balance your mood.
- Exercise. Often in the rush of the holidays, everyday self-care practices like diet, exercise, and rest can be thrown to the side to make more time for the almighty list. But this can actually be counterproductive to you achieving your goals. It’s more important than ever to take care of yourself during times of stress since the immune system is suppressed. Exercise lowers the stress hormones, pumps up your immune system, and keeps your body strong so you can keep going all season long.
- Practice Self-Care. In addition to exercise, be sure you’re eating healthy in between those holiday goodies. Force yourself to go to bed at a normal time for a full night’s sleep and schedule in moments of rest – watching a movie by the fire, 20 minutes of yoga and/or meditation, 5 minutes to sit quietly by the tree and sip your coffee – every little bit helps!
- Be Mindful of what is happening around you. Stop yourself long enough to notice the little moments and savor them: your child’s laughter as they pop open the next day on the advent calendar, the smell of the tree, the glow of the candles, the family sitting at the table full on food and laughter. These are the moments you’ve been working so hard for. Don’t miss them!
- Allow a short Digital Detox. The constant buzzing of the phones and emails, not to mention the flow of perfect pictures from everyone else’s celebrations can send your stress level skyrocketing. Turn it off. What everyone else is doing doesn’t matter. Enjoy YOUR holiday season, whatever that may be. And that email can wait at least until after dinner is over.
- Surround Your Senses. Simple things like the smell of citrus, the taste of honey, or the sound of music can calm your system and lift your “feel good” hormones. Having these basic stress relief tools around you while you work your way through your task list can calm your body and mind and keep you going.
- Think Positive. If you start off the season grumbling that you’ll never get everything done, it’s too stressful, nothing will go right, then that’s likely how it will end up. Tell yourself you can get it done, you can set reasonable goals, and you can enjoy yourself in the process!
- Squeeze the Hoku Spot. Traditional Chinese medicine shows that the fleshy spot between your thumb and first finger can reduce stress and tension in the upper body. Squeeze that spot for 30 seconds for a quick release.
- Be sure to take a moment to Reflect on the Meaning of the Season. Regardless of which holiday you celebrate, gratitude, peace, love, and joy tend to be the prevalent factors behind it all and the reasons we put ourselves through this insanity in the first place. Focus on that and let the “insanity” part slip away. It’s these moments of peace and joy, no matter how brief they might be, that need to fuel us and can help us find our true priorities to guide us through the season.