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All those gleeful songs, cheery commercials and sparkles in the eye can paint the perfect picture of holiday happiness. But what happens when your tinsel gets tangled, leaving you feeling stressed and down-right frustrated?
The first thing to do is realize that stress and anxiety are completely normal around the holidays. Learn more about why the holidays can be emotionally trying and get some tips from the experts at AdventHealth to support your whole health during the season.
Top Holiday Stress Culprits
1. Unmet Expectations
One of the most common reasons to feel stressed around the holidays is because things don't work out as expected. If you have high expectations and don't achieve them, it could lead to feeling stressed out or unhappy.
One common example is the expectation that your family will get along this year without any arguments. For many people, conflicts have been an issue in the past, and this hope isn't necessarily realistic.
To help reduce stress, set expectations that are appropriate based on the past, what you know about yourself and your personal situation and limitations.
2. Pressure to Be Happy
There's a lot of pressure in our culture and the media that the holidays are this perceived happy, joyful time for everyone, where we all are grateful and thankful for what we have.
Although this is generally true, the holidays can also be a reminder of what we don't have. Stressors like not having enough money, the family or partner you wanted or a particular relationship with a family member can add pressure that you might not otherwise feel. For many, the holidays can spark reflection around what is missing in your life, which can be emotionally difficult.
3. Reminders of Loss
The holidays can also be a time where people are hyper-aware of loss. Especially if you haven't had a chance to grieve completely for a loved one who has passed away or if you're feeling lonely, the holidays could be an opportunity for unattended emotional issues to surface.
How to Know When Stress is Too Much
One of the most important things you can do is check in with yourself frequently and identify your feelings. One way to do this is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is awareness. If you are distracted or so busy and stressed out that you don't realize what feelings are manifesting, you can't acknowledge them and do something about them.
Remember, its normal for a certain amount of stress or sadness comes with the holidays.
However, when these negative feelings impede on your life, causing you to fall behind in meeting your daily responsibilities, argue with your partner frequently or spend too much money, these are red flags that your stress could be affecting your wellness and life functioning. And if this becomes your reality, it's recommended to talk to your doctor and seek help.
Tips for Managing Holiday Stress
In addition to setting realistic expectations around the holidays and checking in with your emotions, here are a few additional exercises to keep your body, mind and spirit in top shape.
1. Mindful Breathing
There are specific techniques, but in sum, mindful breathing involves taking some quiet time to refocus on yourself and your body through breathing. You inhale for a period of time, hold your breath and then exhale for longer than you inhaled. You can do this consistently until you feel calmer.
Deep breathing is basic brain science; its a proven way to calm your body and your mind.
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation helps you to be mindful of your body. It involves taking a moment to scan your entire body (head to toe), checking in with each area to feel where there is tension or discomfort.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a way of checking in with your body to find areas where you can release some tension so it doesn't have to physically carry the stress.
You can also do stretching exercises to help reduce stress, release tension and support the body-mind connection.
Mindfulness is like a muscle in your brain; the more you use it the stronger it gets, and it even eventually happens automatically.
Meditation is one way to train your brain to be in a calmer, more present state. If you practice some meditation using some guided apps or an exercise you develop on your own you can master your mindfulness and be prepared for the holidays.
When you plan, you have a greater sense of control. Planning allows you to get better at setting boundaries for yourself and others.
Around the holidays, many people have expectations for you, whether it's attending a party or family gathering. Know that it's okay to say no and do less.
If your plan and to-do list is a mile long, is it possible to be mindful or calm while doing that list? Probably not. And that's your signal to make adjustments for your health and well-being.
Self-care should be one of your priorities. It's okay to be selfless and give back to your health, and if you have to walk away from a triggering conversation or leave a party early, it's okay to do that because your wellness matters.
5. Practicing Gratitude
When we are mindless and stressed out, it's easy to forget what we are grateful for. Fortunately, gratitude is an effective anecdote for stress and depression.
Practice a gratitude by taking just one minute a day to write down all of the things of which you are appreciative of or grateful. This helps refocus your mind on the positive things that you have in your life.
6. Being Present
Take moments to be present around the holidays. You can do this anywhere and anytime. Focus all of your attention on something positive. Try engaging with a family member, making cookies, or holiday shopping, but try not to let other thoughts and stressors affect that moment.
7. Having Support
If it's hard for you to be around a family member or friend, make sure you have a support system around you. Have a friend ready to text or call, or someone who can go with you to an event that you think will be emotionally uncomfortable.
8. Realizing That Your Holiday Stress is Normal
It's impossible to emphasize enough how much normalcy there is in experiencing stress around the holidays. If you do, you are not alone.
It's important to validate your feelings and not feel any sort of shame. There is nothing wrong with the way you feel, and you're not handling seasonal stress any differently than anyone else.
While the holidays are a time to reflect and set goals to make personal improvements, it's also a time to be kind to yourself.