If your blood pressure spikes and your jaw clenches at the thought of a holiday season full of hustle and bustle, you’re not alone. A whopping 38% of Americans say they experience a spike in stress during the span between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Be it due to the financial strain of gifts, anxiety related to traveling, balancing work and socializing, the tension involved in family dynamics or something else entirely, it certainly is the season of wearing your shoulders like earrings.
Read on to discover why holiday stress is so pervasive, plus how to feel more festive than frazzled this season.
Why Holiday Stress Is So Common
Stress can manifest in many ways, including feeling down or depressed, anxiety, headaches, overall body aches, sleep troubles, irritability and more.
So what causes it? First of all, the holiday season is heavy with expectations. Can you make Mom proud by acing her Christmas turkey? Can you attend all the neighborhood holiday happy hours? Can you complete all of your work in A+ style while being there for all of your children’s pageants and parties, all of your pals’ events and your family obligations … oh yes, and make it to your regular workout classes? How about the expense and time of finding the *perfect* gift and booking travel?
It makes our heads spin just thinking about it. And we haven’t even mentioned any potential stress related to family members that many of us have lost recently. This can make holiday “celebrations” more melancholy than usual.
5 Ways to Ease Holiday Stress
Eliminate the Need to “Keep Up With the Joneses”
With instant access to what everyone else is doing via social media, it can be a challenge to not feel like you’re behind schedule (say, sending out holiday cards or decorating) or celebrating with enough style (perhaps your neighbor or college classmate’s outdoor light show rivals that of an epic movie scene?). The bar is set high—often impossibly high—by external factors like these, which may easily blur the lines between what you really want to do and what you feel like you have to do.
Ask everyone in your household to create a “hell yes” list of the traditions you’re each excited to keep up with or the parts of the season you truly look forward to. Then compare notes and give yourselves full permission to ditch any old routines that don’t serve you anymore.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”
Now that you’ve honed in on what matters most, start flexing your “no” muscle. Especially after last year’s pandemic-impacted holiday season, it may feel tempting to accept any and all invitations to catch up with family and friends you haven’t seen in a while. Then all of a sudden, you notice your calendar is booked nightly through January 3.
Or perhaps you do truly want to attend, but the host is known to be one to constantly refill all wine glasses endlessly throughout the night. Remember that you reserve all rights to stick with a no-ABV drink or to sip on just one pour of vino and politely decline the rest.
Prioritize Self Care
‘Tis the season for giving, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t remain on your “to gift” list, too. Consider how many evenings you’d like to block on your calendar each week to do only what *you* feel like doing, be it getting a pedicure or a massage, sneaking in some stress-relieving yoga or simply catching up on your favorite streaming show.
This will also allow for a bit of introspection as the season speeds along; enough time to reflect on the real reason it’s full of celebrations as well as what you’re grateful for.
Acknowledge that Things Can Be Hard
The first holiday season after losing a loved one is emotionally taxing, to say the least. Allow space to feel all of the feelings—not just the positive ones. If it feels beneficial, jot them down in a journal or discuss with a loved one.
Create a “Carrot” For the New Year
Part of the stress of the holiday season might lie in the “wait, it’s all over?!” feelings of January. With the holidays in the rearview mirror, it can feel like there’s a long haul until there’s an occasion to celebrate again.
If you can, plan ahead to plant a “carrot” to look forward to once the holidays are over. It can be as small as signing up for a cooking class for you and your best friend in mid-January, or as big as booking a trip to a tropical island for a warm and sunny escape.