Is the Holiday Season Stressing You Out?

What is your most stressful time of year? If you answered “the holiday season,” you’re not alone.

And that’s a shame, isn’t it? At a time when we should be experiencing happiness, two uninvited guests show up at our door – stress and depression. Those intruders can take the joy out of holidays. And negatively affect our health.

Today I want to talk about two related things. One is an explanation of why so many of us get stressed out around the holiday season. 

The second is what we can do to limit that stress this month. If any of these methods work for you, you can get an even earlier start on them next year.  

Demands, Loss and Finances

Perhaps the biggest reason the holiday season causes stress is the demands it puts on us. 

For some it’s shopping, baking, cooking, entertaining and cleaning. For others it’s travel, which continues to be challenging (and scary) with a pandemic that doesn’t want to hit the road.

Many of us have lost loved ones since last year’s holidays. The fact that their spot at the dinner table will be empty this month causes us sadness.

Another issue causing stress during the holidays is money. With gifts, food and gas all costing more than last year, budgeting during the holidays can be a big concern.  

Polls Show We’re Stressed

Even without factoring in the holidays, many people are uneasy. A recent Harris Poll revealed that nearly one-third of adults are stressed out about the pandemic. The poll was conducted on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Paraskevi Noulas is a psychologist at NYU Langone Health. Here’s what he said about the connection between stress and health. 

“Experiencing… stress has negative impacts on our overall health. Routines are thrown off, activity levels drop, depressive and anxiety symptoms increase, and substance use increases. It’s a negative domino effect.” 

Unfortunately, adding the holiday season into the mix does not automatically turn our lives into Hallmark Channel Christmas specials. In fact, the responsibilities and expectations of the holidays can have the opposite effect.

The poll also showed that 38 percent of people said their stress level increases during the holidays. Another survey demonstrated that 53 percent feel stressed by holiday spending. 

9 Ways to Handle Holiday Stress

So, that explains why holidays cause us stress. Now, here are nine suggestions on how to handle holiday stress and depression from the Mayo Clinic.

  • Acknowledge your feelings. Don’t put on a happy face just because it’s the holiday season. Express your grief if your family has lost a loved one, ideally with other loved ones, then get back to celebrating their life and the season.
  • Reach out. This involves both reaching out for help if you need it for stress or depression, and reaching out to others who might be in need. Volunteering your time is a great way to make you feel better and broaden your friendships.
  • Be realistic. It’s possible, due to the ongoing pandemic or for other reasons, not everyone will be able to join your gathering this year. If so, find other ways to celebrate with them, including video chats and sharing photos.
  • Set aside differences. Other than during the Civil War, our country has never been more polarized than it is now. For some families, it would be easy to spend time arguing over politics and other issues. Instead, focus on what you have in common. 
  • Stick to a budget. Determine in advance how much you’re going to spend during the holidays and stick with it. You’re going to need money in January for bills, so don’t leave yourself short trying to plan the perfect holiday gathering.
  • Plan ahead. Set a schedule for yourself regarding shopping, baking and connecting with friends. Shop online for things you know can be delivered on time. Line up some help in advance for food prep and cleanup. 
  • Learn to say “no.” You can’t do everything and keep your sanity, so say “no” to some projects and activities. Family and friends should understand. If they don’t, you just have to let it go.
  • Don’t abandon healthy habits. Overindulgence when it comes to food, drink and fun won’t do your immune system any good at a time when you need to stay healthy. Eat nutritious foods, exercise and get plenty of sleep. 
  • Take a breather. Not every minute during the holiday season needs to be filled. Set aside some time to do absolutely nothing except relax. Watch your favorite holiday movie (It’s a Wonderful Life and Elf come to mind.) 

Recommendations for Travel

If you have to travel this holiday season, choose the mode of transportation you’re most comfortable with. Be it car, train, bus or plane. 

Those who are flying should get to the airport even earlier than is suggested. Long lines and safety protocols are slowing lines down. Allow yourself some time to relax at the airport before boarding your flight.

Practice deep breathing exercises to calm yourself down. Noise-canceling headphones can keep what you want to hear in your head and what you don’t want to hear outside it.

The holidays really are the most wonderful time of the year. So don’t spend them being stressed and depressed. With some planning and wise decisions, you can revisit that childhood joy you used to feel.

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