The holiday season is supposed to be the most “joyous time of year”, but for many of us, it can be stress-filled and full of anxiety.
Holiday stress comes in many shapes and sizes and is unique to each of us. For you, it might be the stress of money, or time constraints, or extended family.
For me, it is mostly budget strains, demands on my time, and the heightened negative moods of holiday shoppers. (I live close to Chicago and it can be crazy, let me tell you!)
This festive season can even trigger depression, as the winter months drag on and our stress levels rise. I know for me, if I don’t get enough sun and fresh air, I’m a mess.
I love winter break when our girls are home for a couple of weeks and we get to sleep in, make holiday plans and just spend quality time together. But if I’m not careful, all those things I love can get tarnished with stress.
So I decided a few years back, for my own health and sanity, that I would do everything I could to head off the stress and anxiety as we head into the holidays each year so that I could have that perfect time with my family, just relaxing and making memories.
Here’s what I do:
Recognize Holiday Stress Triggers
I started by writing down all the things that bring me stress during the holidays. My list consisted of things like crowds, last-minute shopping, not enough money, etc.
Even the small things, I wrote them all down, because we all know, small things add up and I wanted to tackle as many of the triggers as I could.
Then, next to each thing on my list, I wrote a suggestion for how to combat that particular stress. I had to get suggestions for some of them, but eventually, each one had at least one thought next to it.
And then I went to work. I started implementing each of the ideas I came up with and over the years, tweaked them.
I’m not saying I always have a stress-free holiday season since I started implementing these tips, but they are definitely more relaxing! So I will list some of the things I do and hopefully, they can help you this year.
How to Relax During the Holidays
Yes, that is my very first point.
I find that very few people smile during the holidays. Sure, we have some pretty great times with friends and loved ones and we smile and laugh a lot, but I’m talking about on the daily when we’re out and about.
Things start to get pretty crowded around here come mid-November and you can always see the downward trend of friendliness go out the window. I can’t tell you how many times, since living here, that I have said “I hate going out this time of year”.
But it’s true. People tend to be ruder, less patient, and no one seems to smile.
So I started my own little mission to smile more when I go out. Not only does this help my own spirit, but it does something else, too. It spreads some warmth and love to those around me. I don’t just smile like a fool, I look people in the eyes as we pass and smile at them.
I might even pay a compliment or say a greeting. It always seems to surprise people but generally, they smile back and light up at the friendly exchange.
When I go places with the intent to spread some kindness, it’s amazing how often I leave feeling pretty good inside.
Buy Gifts Early
I absolutely loved holiday shopping as a girl. But now that I’m an adult, no thank you. Around here, my anxiety goes through the roof whenever I try shopping in December. Not to mention, I tend to have less success finding that “perfect gift” when I wait until a few weeks before.
So I try to shop throughout the year and plan for discount days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday so I can stretch my budget.
This year, all of my Christmas shopping for my family was finished by the first week of November, my earliest to date. That was the most amazing feeling ever; all that shopping stress was nonexistent and I. LOVED. IT!
I’m not sure I’ll be that early every year from now on, but I sure will try.
Shop Early for the Holiday Meal
We budget our money pretty closely in our family, so having a big dinner on Christmas with lots of grazing food throughout the day just isn’t in my budget. But I always plan for a little wiggle room each week and I use that money throughout the month to buy things early.
That way when Christmas arrives, I don’t have to stress over how taxed my food budget is, or that the store ran out of cranberries, or have to brave the crowds that week.
It’s really great to sit back and relax that week, and shopping early helps me do that.
Meal Plan for the Month
I’m not as good at this as I would like to be, as December is very busy, but when I get ahead and plan things out, it’s a massive time-saver, relieves an incredible amount of daily stress, and allows me to knock other things off my list during the time I would have spent making dinner.
Even just writing out a menu for the month can eliminate the stress of figuring it out each week.
As I said earlier, I try to get all my shopping done early so I don’t have to go out and fight the crowds. However, I still need groceries, etc.
But even grocery shopping during the holidays can be stressful. So during the month of December, I almost always buy online or use Instacart. This has done miracles for my stress and relaxation.
But allow me to make a suggestion if you will be getting deliveries to your home: leave out some goodies for your delivery drivers who are working hard, especially during the holidays. This post lists some amazing printables that you can use. Trust me, they love seeing treat baskets on porches!
Avoid Activities That Cause Stress
When I was a newly married young woman, I felt the pressure to get those holiday cards out to all our friends and family just like everyone else was doing at that time. But, as much as I wanted to pass on the holiday spirit through festive cards and hand-written words of love, the whole thing totally stressed me out.
I’m not sure why exactly, but it did. And finally, I came to the point where I was not going to let it bother me anymore and I just stopped doing it. Sure, I felt guilty for a few years but eventually, I came to the conclusion that my spirit was better for having given it up.
There’s too much pressure to do all the things and to do them this way or that way. But you know what, who cares? Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like trudging through things that make you miserable. So do the things that make you happy and avoid the things that don’t.
It’s a simple concept but totally worth it!
Do Something for Someone
My husband once told me that he answers more calls for suicide attempts in the month of December than at any other time. That absolutely broke my heart. In a time when we should be celebrating Jesus and His gift to us, spending time with family, and sharing joy and love, there are people who feel there is no hope.
If you want to counter the stress and anxiety this year, find someone to love on. We might have no idea just how much it’s needed in a person’s life. This is my favorite way to spread the holiday spirit and let me tell you, it’s worth every bit of effort.
There are so many charitable causes you can help with, even when you don’t have the extra funds to donate. There are plenty of things you can do that cost only your time, which can mean more than all the money in the world.
Here are some ways to give back this holiday season:
- You can visit a nursing home
- Help at a homeless shelter
- Adopt a family (bring them food, presents, decorations, etc.)
- Bring your neighbors a small gift and card
- Pay for someone else in the drive through/checkout lane
- Leave a gift card for someone to find
- Bring a plate of cookies to your local first responders
- Bring dinner to a family whose schedules are swamped
- Shovel the driveway for the elderly
- Make cards for those in the hospital
- Have a visitor at church? Invite them over for coffee
- Leave a small gift for your mailman/trash collectors, etc.
- Offer to babysit for someone who can’t afford childcare
- Buy some toys for foster children
- Invite college students over for some holiday fun
- Make cards for military families both overseas and at home
- Leave encouraging cards on the windshields of those parked at hospitals
- Help at an animal shelter
- Gather some friends to go caroling at the home of shut-ins or those who are ill
- Make a list of people/organizations in your community and pray for one a day
- Decorate a teacher’s desk with meaningful notes
- Have your kid’s give gifts to lunch room staff, janitors, etc.
There is something magical that happens when we do for others. And I’m not just talking about the joy it brings the recipients of our time/money, I’m talking about what it does inside of us. Especially when we do it for someone who might really need that extra bit of love.
This is an excellent way to involve your family and teach your children the joy of serving others. You can even give them money for them to use for their own “giving back” projects.
Do Something you Enjoy
I always start Christmas vacation with high hopes of sitting on the couch with my family watching Christmas movies while coloring. That’s what I get excited about during the holidays. And when I get to do it, let me tell you, the stress just melts away.
I usually get my pens and books out and set them on my side table beside the couch so they’re all ready to go. It relaxes me and does wonders for my mental health. It’s probably my favorite holiday activity that I have enjoyed since I was a kid.
What do you like to do? What are some things that would bring you joy or create the best of memories? Make sure you take time for those things.
Take a Vacation From Social Media
I do not need to list the pros and cons of social media because we all know them. During the holidays it can be fun to see everyone’s decorated homes and the fun things they’re doing. But if there’s any bit of drama on your timeline, or if seeing all the festive things makes you feel worse, then take a break.
There is nothing wrong with stepping away, in fact, it’s very good for your mental health. I know many of my friends who do this regularly and they never miss it. In fact, some friends have never returned to social media and they say their lives are better for it.
It might be worth it to give it a try. I can only imagine how much more present it would allow us to be with our families if we weren’t distracted by technology. It would definitely help us to focus on what really matters.
If you are planning a holiday party, please don’t feel you have to do it all. You really don’t. Asking everyone who comes to bring a side dish or dessert or appetizer is not asking too much and most are happy to help and want to show off their special dishes. 🙂
I can say this because I used to juggle it all when we had family or friends over. Not because no one offered to help but because I wanted to be the perfect host and do it all myself. But every time I did, it ended up being stressful with too much anxiety over the planning and execution. So much so, I always found it hard to enjoy the day.
Now, when we have our annual New Year’s Eve party, I accept my friend’s offers to bring something and make sure to extend the same offer whenever I go to a party.
Schedule Time with Loved Ones/Friends
Let me preface this by saying if being around others just stresses you out, then, by all means, enjoy some alone time. No one gets that more than me!
But I look so forward to having our girls home during Christmas break and try to plan some things to do together. We love cuddling up to a movie and hot cocoa, but we also try to get in a few games, maybe a puzzle.
And if some of my girlfriends want to get together, I honestly make an effort to get out of my office and socialize a bit. Because I know I need it. We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures all the time. We need that time with others, it really does a world of good and can help lower those stress levels.
Create a Cozy Atmosphere
I have really been drawn to the Hygge decor for some time now and have tried to incorporate more of it into our home. I even got out my mini crockpot and filled it with cranberries, orange slices, cloves, and cinnamon. My house smells like Christmas, which is exactly what I was going for.
We even bought a space heater with a fake flame and keep it in our living room so that when we turn off the lights to enjoy the tree, we turn on the heater and enjoy the ambiance of a fireplace, too.
I added tons more greenery into our home and it just feels so much homier to me. This is my favorite part of our house:
I know that being grateful is something we think more of during the month of November, but as commercial as the holidays have become, it’s more crucial now than ever before.
When we express gratitude, it takes our eyes off ourselves and aligns our hearts with the right perspective. And it’s a mindful way to eliminate some of the stress that creeps its way in. Better yet, make it a daily routine. Your life will be the better for it.
Create Some Healthy Habits
Chronic stress can do more damage to our bodies than just about anything else can and the worse it gets, the worse we feel.
There are so many things we can do to combat stress, that work for the holidays and beyond. These are just a few tips I’ve gathered that help fight stress and anxiety during the holidays:
- Get your sleep (make this a priority)
- Take your vitamins
- Exercise some every day
- Take a walk
- Eat well (avoid junk food)
- This would be the perfect time to start Guided Meditation (You might find this related article helpful)
- Avoid following the latest news (at least take a break for a few weeks)
- Take a vacation day before or after busy days so you can prepare or recover properly
- Have some tools on hand to lower your stress (I swear by this one!)
- Spend quality time with a loved one or family member
Whether you love the holidays or can’t wait for them to be over, you can eliminate a lot of stress if you take the time to implement even just a few of the tips listed above.
I hope this is your most relaxed holiday season yet. Happy Holidays!