How to Beat Holiday Stress

Jon Brett, PhD

The holiday season is upon us, as is our annual attempt to sidestep our usual holiday stressors. Here are some suggestions for doing just that.

Know yourself

It’s important to be mindful; for example, if you know heartburn, tight shoulders or worrying are your classic stress signals, make a change before your stress increases. There are a number of self-care practices that can help you be calm during the chaos often associated with the holidays:

Emotional balance is key

Keeping balance is a must. Here are some self-care practices designed to help you maintain a sense of calm during the holidays.

  • Exercise – If not regularly, exercise as often as your holiday schedule will allow.
  • Nutrition – Keep a healthy and balanced diet but understand there will be times when you stray during the holidays.
  • Sleep as regularly as possible.
  • Stimulants – Minimize or reduce intake of soda, coffee and cigarettes.
  • Support system – Be in touch with and talk to good friends “who get it” when you’re feeling overwhelmed or depressed.
  • Nurture yourself – Make time to emotionally “feed” yourself between obligations and pressures by reading, walking or watching a movie.
  • Plan and manage your time – Plan ahead, make realistic goals and prioritize, as pacing is everything.
  • Keep perspective – Remember that, like anything, the holidays won’t last forever, no matter what is happening.

Coping mechanisms

Finally, “situational” tactics can also help combat stress triggers as they occur. These coping strategies are neither resolutions nor solutions to bigger problems, but immediate ways to weather a stressful event. Among them are:

  • Distraction
  • Problem-solving
  • Communicating or expressing
  • Avoiding
  • Keeping perspective, and
  • Acceptance

For example, conversations with an unpleasant uncle at a family dinner may be kept to short and passing interactions combined with helping in the kitchen as “avoidance” and “distraction” coping strategies. Alternatively, having to visit three sets of relatives on one holiday may demand “problem solving,” “acceptance” and “maintaining perspective” strategies to get through the rigors of the day.

It is ironic that the time of year intended to promote goodwill, gratitude and optimism can often bring out anticipated dread rather than positive anticipation. Being prepared with techniques to help face the season’s stressors may help with embracing the true spirit of the holiday season.