7 simple tips to manage and relieve holiday stress

Mental Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Nov 14, 2023

The holiday season is something most people start looking forward to long before the Halloween candy has gone stale. For many, though, it quickly turns into a season that is a lot more fun to anticipate than actually be in the midst of, due to all the extra stress “the most wonderful time of the year” tends to bring.

However, by shifting your mindset and not completely abandoning healthy habits (yes, it’s possible even during the holidays), your emotional, mental and physical well-being won’t take such a beating.

Here are seven ways you can make this time of the year merry and bright.

1. Set realistic expectations

Your celebration will probably never look like a scene out of “White Christmas” or a holiday made-for-TV rom-com. Trying to put up the perfect decorations or prepare a perfect meal will only add stress to what should be a joyful season.

Perfection is impossible. Instead, let go of the pressure to create a perfect holiday experience and relax and enjoy. Focus on what's really important: spending time with loved ones and creating happy memories. No one will care that the gifts are wrapped with last year’s paper or that the meal is a buffet instead of a sit-down dinner. Your guests will be happy just to be together.

Keeping realistic expectations can also help you be more present in the moment. When you’re constantly striving for perfection, you can miss out on the joy right in front of you. By accepting that the holidays may not be perfect, we can focus on enjoying them for what they are and creating happy memories.

2. Ignore social media

One of the biggest sources of stress in the modern world is social media, and this is even more apparent during the holiday season. Seeing all those picture-perfect images of other people's holiday celebrations can make you feel like you're not measuring up. But it's important to remember that those images are often carefully curated and don't reflect the reality of most people's lives. Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on what you have to be grateful for and the positive aspects of your own holiday experience.

3. Find your happy place

While we tend to think of others during the holidays, you shouldn’t neglect your own personal needs. Michael Davis, a chaplain at Baylor Jack and Jane Hamilton Heart and Vascular Hospital who has studied depression, recommends taking time to focus on yourself.

“I think maintaining a sense of balance and focusing on the things important to you, and having a steady sense of pleasure and accomplishment is really, really important to our own relaxation,” Davis said.

4. Prioritize

To help keep you from getting overwhelmed, try this quick and easy idea as you plan for the holidays. Get a sheet of paper and divide it into four columns. From left to right, label the columns:

  1. What I used to do
  2. What I need to do
  3. What I want to do
  4. What I will do

Fill out each column.

“It can be a kind of compass to plan your strategies for the holidays,” Davis said. “It can help you get a sense about where you want to go, what’s important to you and maintaining that focus.”

5. Get moving

Often, by the time you realize you are stressed out, it’s already taken a toll on your body, mood and perhaps those around you. That’s why it’s important to take preventative measures rather than waiting until you’re stressed to the max to do something about it.

The type of physical activity that may help prevent or relieve stress is not nearly as rigorous—or time-consuming—as what may be needed to lose weight or “get in shape.” It can be as simple as standing up every couple of hours and doing a few stretching exercises that take only a few minutes. The goal is to get the blood flowing and joints moving. Working out is a great way to blow some tension off and relax, due to the chemical reaction it can trigger in the brain.

Just getting up, getting moving, and taking some deep breaths can have a huge effect on your day, how you perceive your day and your attitude throughout the day.

6. Make time for things you enjoy

There’s a lot to get done during the holiday season, and it’s easy to get swept up in the to-do lists and your busy social calendar. You may feel like you don’t have time to slow down and actually have fun! Remember to take a few moments here and there to enjoy your favorite holiday activities and traditions. This season should be a time of joy and wonder, not stress and busyness.

If you have a hobby, don’t neglect it, either. Engaging in your favorite hobbies regularly can help you relax and ease any tension you may feel during stressful times.

7. Reach out to others

If you find yourself alone during the holidays, don’t turn your celebration into a pity party. There are many ways to connect with others this time of year. Volunteer at a local charity or attend a holiday event in your community. Reach out to friends or family members who you haven't talked to in a while. Even if you can't be together in person, a phone call or video chat can help you feel more connected.

So, for less stress, give these simple ideas a try this holiday season. You may even find they become the gift that keeps on giving all year long.

Finding it difficult to manage your stress? Talk to a doctor.

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