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Eight ways to de-stress during the holidays

Everyone knows that the holidays can be a stressful time of the year. There’s a lot of planning that goes on for family get-togethers, holiday parties, dinners, and even traveling. The conflicts that are bound to arise stir up mixed feelings and can lead to stress and anxiety.

But the holidays can also be a time to reflect on all of the good things you have in your life and enjoy spending time with your close friends and loved ones.

Mental health counselor and life coach Diane Lang provided the following tips for tamping down holiday stress and keeping in the right frame of mind.

1. Start early: This means making to-do lists, grocery lists, getting a head start on your gift shopping and more. When you wait until the last minute to do these things, that’s when the stress really gets to you. You can avoid all of that by making a few lists and taking time to complete them a few tasks at a time instead of all at once.

2. Take care of you: When you start to feel overwhelmed by all of the tasks you have to do and by the idea that you will soon have to spend time entertaining your large, extended family, create some personal time to relax. Make time in your schedule to do whatever it is that makes you happy, whether it’s a day at the spa, snuggling under the covers and reading a good book, or enjoying a glass of wine before bed. Some solitary time is important and it’s good to indulge every once in a while.

3. Be up front financially: Money is another big factor in holiday stress since most people plan to buy presents for the family, cook dinner for a group and host big parties. The holidays are always a tough time financially and you shouldn’t spend money that you don’t have. If money is tight, create a strict budget for yourself and make sure to stick to it. Consider buying presents only for the kids, doing a Secret Santa/Yankee Swap for the adults, or even use your creativity to make some homemade gifts.

4. Get some exercise: Getting active and doing some form of exercise does wonders for relieving stress. Even going for a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day can be extremely beneficial. Grab a neighbor or a friend to accompany you so you can talk while you’re on the move and you won’t even realize that what you’re doing is exercising. If possible, get the whole family involved in a walk so they can all benefit from lower levels of stress.

5. Ask for help: If you’re the person in the family who is doing all of the planning, all of the cooking and all of the shopping, you really should consider asking for help. No one can be expected to do so many things at once, so learn to delegate tasks to others. Ask family members to each bring a different dish to dinner to relieve some of your cooking duties. Everyone should be doing his or her part to help out, including clean-up.

6. Gratitude: The holidays are really about spending quality time with your friends and family. It’s not about the presents, or the food, or the parties. We should feel grateful and happy for our health and for being surrounded by loved ones. These are lessons to pass on to your children and teach them to appreciate all of the little things in life that make us happy.

7. Watch the signs: Listen to your body. If you are noticing any of the following signs, it’s time to make changes:

• Changes in sleeping habits

• Changes in eating habits

• Feeling irritable, moody and unhappy

• Exhaustion and fatigue

• Panic attack symptoms including dizziness, heavy chest, heart racing, headache, nausea, hot and cold flashes

• Physical signs such as headaches, stomachaches, joint pain and a low immune system that leads to frequent colds and illnesses.

These symptoms are all warning signs of too much stress and anxiety in our lives. This is a sign to slow down and take a time out.

8. Pay it forward: During the holidays, join a local charity and help serve dinners, drop off presents and give hugs. Every time we do a random act of kindness, we help others and ourselves. Random acts of kindness give a boost of happiness that lasts 24 to 72 hours. Spread the joy!

Diane Lang is author of “Baby Steps: The Path from Motherhood to Career” and “Creating Balance and Finding Happiness.” Read her blog at pazoo.com.