Strategies for Stress-Less Holidays

Along with the fun and festivity of the holiday season comes serious pressure to decorate, buy gifts, entertain, attend parties, cook elaborate meals, cover for vacationing colleagues, and travel to see relatives—all while sporting a bright and merry smile! This year, prevent and prepare for holiday hassles with these stress-less strategies to add a little joy to the world.

  • Set limits and priorities. We often compound external pressures with unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. Rather than trying to accommodate every invitation, request, and demand, set limits for yourself in advance. First and foremost, give yourself a break—literally. Periods of exercise and tranquility will sustain your immune system and energy levels. Simplify and keep consumerism in check with a firm spending limit. Save time when you shop online or give gift cards. Consider a charitable donation, homemade gift, or shared activity in place of a store-bought gift. Think about the big picture: preserve meaningful traditions and eliminate any activity that feels like an obligation. If you feel the need to explain yourself, emphasize how much you enjoy the peace and intangible pleasures of the season.

  • Be flexible. Know this: things will go wrong and you will encounter undesirable circumstances. Fellow shoppers will cut in front of you in line, relatives will criticize your weight, and you will overcook the turkey. But when things anger or annoy you, redirect your thoughts toward empathy and charity. Consider the hardships or worries that might underlie someone’s apparent hostility or selfishness. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Try to see the positive angle and humor in every situation. Take advantage of long lines and traffic jams to meditate, practice progressive muscle relaxation, or squeeze in a mini-workout with isometric muscle exercises. And when things don’t go as planned, remember that it’s all part of the plan.

  • Release expectations. When things get stressful, keep yourself grounded in the values that inspire the season: peace, kindness, gratitude, and goodwill. Recognize that it’s unfair to expect others to celebrate in your chosen manner. By the same token, it’s unhealthy to force yourself to conform to how you think you “should” appear and behave if you aren’t being authentic. Whether you thrive on exuberant parties and generous gift-giving or prefer a quiet, modest celebration, respect your needs and the needs of others. If you feel slighted by a card, gift, or invitation that never came, try not to take it personally. After all, the holidays are not just about you; they are about generosity and spiritual meaning. Make an effort to appreciate, rather than evaluate, all variations of religious and secular styles.

  • Reach out. For people without a support network or who have lost a loved one, being surrounded by joyful celebrations can remind them of what or who is missing in their lives. This “seasonal depression” is common, yet it’s easy for sufferers to fall through the cracks. You can help prevent depression by reaching out before the season gains momentum. If the holidays tend to be difficult for you, prepare a mood-boosting kit of options and implement them at the first hint of sadness. Write daily in a gratitude journal, engage in exercise or hobbies, ask a trusted friend to check in with you, seek out free community events, listen to your favorite music, or volunteer your time to help others. If depression takes hold, consider seeing a doctor or counselor, joining a mental health support group such as NAMI, or calling the national crisis line 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If, on the other hand, you have resources to spare, plan to visit socially isolated neighbors or a senior center to spread good cheer.

  • Take it easy. We all know that shops, service providers, and travel routes get busy this time of year. Recognize and accept this reality. Schedule extra time to travel and accomplish your errands so that you won’t feel rushed and impatient. Abide by the limits you set for yourself. When negativity creeps in, smile, take a deep breath, and let it go. Silently repeat positive mantras such as “I am an oasis of calm” and “I am grateful, I have everything I need.” No matter how busy or pressured you feel, take the time to relax and enjoy yourself even when you have a list of unfinished tasks. Relax, and make these stress-less strategies your new holiday tradition.

  • Find a local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support group