The holidays are supposed to be a happy time, but many of us end up missing the fun because we are too stressed out. Tight finances, loneliness, grief, family struggles and other difficult situations can trigger the holiday blues.
The American Psychology Association reports that while most of us do feel in higher spirits around the holidays, we are also more vulnerable to fatigue, irritability and sadness.
There is plenty of online information about ways to reduce holiday stress.
Here is what six people say they have learned when it comes to navigating the stress of holidays.
Balance Your Commitments
Sarah likes spending time with her family at Christmas, but she dreads the long drive across three states.
“Getting ready for the trip and recovering from the trip always left me exhausted for most of December,” she says. “I shortened my family visit by two days and took three additional days off of work that I kept all to myself. Everyone assumed I was still out of town, so I had no social obligations. It was the best Christmas I’ve had in a long time.”
Sarah’s advice: Make a list of holiday-related activities ahead of you and plan something enjoyable to offset it.
Declare a Cease-fire
“I love my family, but I have a few relatives who like to stir the pot,” Macy says. “I always felt like I had a duty to stand up for myself or to defend my position whenever they started in at family gatherings.
“About three years ago, I declared a personal cease-fire for November and December. If someone says something that pushes my buttons, I walk away.
“I also stay off social media during the holidays because it seems like everyone is either stressed out or trying to demonstrate how perfectly happy they are. It’s just too easy to get cynical or fire back a response.”
Eliminate Gift Guilt
“My parents have everything,” William says. “If they want something, they buy it. I used to start worrying about what to get them for Christmas in October.
“I’d been working hard to cut down on the amount of ‘stuff’ I accumulate. I was also making an effort to spend my money at local small businesses. When it came time to buy gifts, it felt like a violation of my values to buy a bunch of gadgets online.
“Instead, I went to a local art and maker boutique and did all of my shopping there. I had a great time. The staff even got in on the fun. Everyone on my list got something totally unexpected and handmade. They loved it.”
William says eliminating infinite choices and letting himself off the hook to choose the perfect gifts made Christmas shopping enjoyable for the first time in his life.
Skip it Sometimes
“My mom passed away, and I just didn’t have the energy to manufacture the Christmas spirit,” Georgia says. “I gave myself permission to skip Christmas entirely, and I almost did. Then, around the 20th, I decided to put up a Christmas tree. I got out all the ornaments my mom had made and baked her favorite dessert. I got such a healing boost from it that I had a small impromptu party on Christmas Eve.
“Someone gave me a great book as a gift, and I enjoyed reading all Christmas Day. It wasn’t the holiday I wanted, necessarily, but it was the holiday I needed.”
Georgia says it is OK to take a break some years. Pretending to feel happy—or being around others not in your situation—can make you feel worse.
Identify the Problem
Paula always dreaded the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas because she inevitably gained back the weight she had worked hard to lose the rest of the year.
She broke the cycle by allowing herself to bake one batch of Christmas cookies a week, then stuck to her healthy eating plan the rest of the time.
“Friday nights were cookie nights,” she says. “We had fun deciding which cookies we were going to bake, and we savored them all weekend without guilt.
“I had no problem avoiding the rest of the holiday goodies because I had my cookies to look forward to. I gained 3 pounds in December and easily lost it by the second week of January. Problem solved.”
Paula says if the holidays stress you out, figure out the problem and create a strategy to manage it.
Declare Less Is More
“My parents made a huge deal about Christmas when I was growing up,” Chris says. “There would be so many presents it was hard to walk through the living room. They couldn’t afford all of that, but it was a cultural thing. When I had kids, I found myself going down the same path.
“In December, I wouldn’t set a budget or even look at the credit card bill. I just wanted my kids to have a good Christmas, as my dad would say. It would take us until March to pay everything off, and it made me feel sick.
“One year, I overheard someone at work say they bought their kids four gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. I loved the idea of that, and so did my wife.
“Now, instead of tearing through piles of presents in a few minutes, our kids take time unwrapping each of their four gifts. It’s so much more meaningful. We didn’t lose any of the joy, and there’s no credit card hangover.” n
Regardless of the holiday you celebrate as the year winds down, be mindful of what causes stress—and be creative about how you deal with it—so you enjoy all the best the season has to offer.