The holidays are often a combination of wonderful and stressful, especially during those family get-togethers. Children and adults can feel overwhelmed by the change in routine and the increase in sensory input all around (the lights, the music, the smells, the traffic, the crowds of people). The stress and anxiety around the holidays can cause many people to turn to bad habits and over-indulgences of sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. Instead of giving into the stress of the holidays, allow it to be an opportunity to practice self-care. We can care for ourselves by maintaining appropriate boundaries with our loved ones, saying no to non-essential obligations, and finding moments of peace among the chaos. Incorporating self-care will help release some of the worry and stress, and instead bring more calm and enjoyment to your family this holiday season.
What You Think You Need:
A holiday "To-Do" List. While it is important to be mindful of what you need to get done around the holidays, much of that can be done ahead of time. Help clear your mind and organize your thoughts by putting it on a physical list (on paper!) and mark items with the highest priority. Taking the time to jot them down will keep you focused and reduce the risk of forgetting those items.
To live up to expectations. No holiday celebration is perfect. Anything that does not go according to plan provides you with an opportunity to practice your flexibility and resilience. A pinterest fail, a crooked tree, or a burned dinner won’t ruin your holiday — it will create a family memory.
To "eat, drink, and be merry." The stress of the holidays cause many people to lean on their bad habits or overindulge in sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Everything in moderation; you may enjoy the treats and sweets, but remember to drink lots of water and eat nutritious foods as well.
The hottest toys or gadgets. It is important to model the value of the holidays without the focus being on presents and superficial wants; this will help your children develop reasonable expectations. Depending on your child's age, this can be an opportunity to teach your child about the value of money and responsible spending.
Create a practical budget for your family and do not exceed it, doing so will add stress to your holiday season and new year.
To do it all. Remember that you’re only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Sometimes self-care is the best thing you can do. Others will benefit when you’re feeling less stressed. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries.
What You Really Need:
In order to relax and enjoy this holiday season, is connection with your family. You planned this whole event, so allow yourself to enjoy it!
Plan ahead and decide what is important. Accept your limitations at this time. These limitations won’t last forever. If it is too much for you to do, allow yourself to step back from the responsibilities of decorating your home, sending holiday cards, or cooking a large family meal. There is room for compromise on non-crucial tasks without compromising your mental health.
Be present. The holiday season is short, though it feels long while we’re in it. The easiest way to keep yourself calm through the chaos of the holidays is to be present in the moment. Check in with your mind and body often, and practice patience with yourself.
Be kind to your body. Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity. It may seem like a challenge with so much to do this time of year, but taking care of yourself during the holidays helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with stress.
Connection. We know that strong, supportive relationships help us manage all kinds of challenges. Take time to foster connection with the positive people in your life.
Give back. Volunteering at a local charity on our own or with family can be another way to make connections; helping others often makes us feel better, too.
Seek/Accept help. Flex your asking-for-help muscle and allow others to step in to assist in accomplishing tasks to help alleviate stress.
Space to grieve. The holidays can be a hard time after a loss. It can be challenging to be with family and to be alone. Just because your loved one is not with you physically, you do not have to pretend as though they never existed. Holidays are a good time to share memories of your loved one and honor their memory in special ways.
Quality time with your children. Ask your children what holiday traditions are most valuable to them. Their opinions count! Be sure to focus extra time on the parts of the holiday your children most enjoy--be it tree decorating, baking cookies, wrapping presents, visiting with family, etc. Don't undermine the power of family traditions as an opportunity to connect with one another and create fond memories!
Play time! Get down on the floor and play with your children! The holidays are a great time to practice "being with" your child. Instead of rushing them from one activity to the next, allow them to enjoy their new toys and play with them! Play is an essential part of brain development in children.
Calm Your Body, Calm Your Mind
Taking a minute to calm your body will help your mind follow suit. If you are able to find moments to step away from the chaos, do so. You probably already know which situations stress you out the most (interacting with certain relatives, going holiday shopping, doing festive activities with the kids), and you can alleviate some of that stress by tuning in to your body's needs for calm.
Take small sensory-focused breaks before you get overstimulated, this will help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed.
Sight: Take a moment to visually take in what's around you. Focus on one thing at a time to prevent getting overwhelmed. Light a fire to watch the flames flicker, or focus your attention on the details of a specific decoration or centerpiece.
Sound: Put on your favorite music, or sing/hum a song that you know will shift your mood. Holiday music can feel repetitive and deter you from relaxation! Another way to cue into your hearing sense is to focus on the rain falling against the roof or windows.
Smell: There are so many scents during the holiday season, it can be overstimulating. Spray a calming scent into the air to revitalize or relax you (eg. lemon, lavender, cinnamon, chamomile). Step outside and take a deep breath of the fresh air.
Touch: Wrap yourself up in your favorite blanket, wear your most comfortable clothes, take a warm bath, get a massage, or ask for a hug to activate your sense of touch.
Taste: Apply mindfulness to the way you eat. Focus on the temperature, the texture, the flavor of each bite. This will help you appreciate the work that went into cooking the food, and it will help you slow down during meals.
The holidays are meant to be a time of joy and happiness but a lot of the time you are left feeling overwhelmed by to-do lists and family get-togethers. Over-stimulation makes you feel tired and spent, let alone spending time with family that you may or may not want to be around. Practice being mindful, focus on your senses and take small breaks to help you prevent getting overwhelmed and overstimulated. Write down what you have to do, be present while you’re doing it, and spend special time with your family practicing old traditions or starting new ones. Practice moderation and don’t rely on the sugar, caffeine and alcohol to help you get through the season. Following these tips and the ones above you can enjoy your holiday rather than stress your way through it!
Adapted from American Psychological Association (APA).
Managing Holiday Stress pdf here