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October 26, 2022

'Tis the Season to Stress Less

By: Leigh Saner, MPH, NBC-HWC

The holiday season is a busy time. With work events, holiday gatherings, gift giving, and the pressure to be filled with happiness and cheer, it can be overwhelming. If you’ve felt that way in previous years, you aren’t alone.

Woman stressed wrapping holiday presents

In a survey conducted by Healthline in 2015, respondents were asked how they described their stress levels during the holidays. Over 60 percent reported feeling either somewhat or very stressed. When asked what the cause of their stress was, the reasons were finances, healthy eating and exercise, picking the right gift and scheduling.

With the holiday season upon us, it’s important to remember that while you aren’t alone in feeling stressed during this time of year, there are some practical ways to prevent stress from creeping in.

Set a budget and stick to it

Most holidays come with a price tag, especially the winter holidays. Before you start any gift or food shopping, take a moment to create a realistic budget. After you have a clear idea of what that looks like, make sure you attempt to stick to it.

man and woman with shopping bags

Plan ahead

Even outside of the holiday season, life is busy. When you add in holiday cooking, shopping, getting together with friends and family, end of year work projects and school events, the calendar can start to overflow. To limit last minute shopping and running around, plan specific times for cooking, shopping and connecting with others.

Prioritize self-care and maintaining healthy habits

During this time of year, when you start to feel like you’re falling “off the wagon”, your instinct can be to just stay off the wagon until the new year. When the new year rolls around, it feels more overwhelming to make healthy choices because you feel like you’re starting over.

This year, instead of “falling off the wagon”, here are a few suggestions of how you can navigate the wagon through the season without having to get back on it in the new year:

- Get at least 7+ hours of sleep per night

- Take a walk after meals

- Try preparing some of your traditional holiday dishes with a healthier spin

- Limit alcohol intake

holiday meal

If stress and overwhelming feelings start to make an impact on your health and happiness, there are some strategies you can implement to help recover from and reduce stress levels.

Create boundaries

There can be a lot of pressure to overcommit to events, projects, etc. If you are feeling at your capacity, drained and even resentful for saying yes to too many engagements, it’s okay to say no. There isn’t a rule that you have to participate in or be the host for everything. Saying no to additional commitments means saying yes to your mental and physical health and wellness.

Breathing exercises

If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the emails you have to send before the holiday party or getting frustrated in the checkout line at the supermarket because the person in front of you is taking too long, take a moment to breathe.

Taking a few deep breaths in and out, or even doing a short breathing exercise where you trace your hand, breathing in as you trace up and breathing out as you trace down, can help relieve stress and feelings of anxiousness.

woman breathing, relaxing

Be realistic

We tend to overestimate how much we can do. Remember to be realistic with your expectations of both yourself and those around you. You can’t try and be everywhere, or else you will feel like you’re going nowhere. Planning ahead and creating manageable to-do lists can help you maintain those expectations.

Remember you can't control everything

Things will happen this season that are out of your control. The grocery store being out of green beans, Uncle Jack saying the wrong thing at the family gathering or a snow storm causing flight delays. Life is unpredictable and things will happen that aren’t part of the plan. Focusing on the things you can control will help you feel less stressed by the things you can’t control.

mother and daughter siting by christmas treesmiling

Ask for help

Sometimes the holiday season can feel lonely, even if you’re surrounded by friends and family. Don’t feel like you have to do everything on your own, or face the season alone.

You don’t have to be the only one cooking, cleaning, working on the final work project, shopping, wrapping presents, walking the dog and checking all the boxes. It’s okay to delegate some of these tasks to friends or family members.

It’s also okay if the stress or loneliness of this time of year is starting to feel too overwhelming. Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to a mental health professional or talk with your doctor.

Implementing some of these strategies ahead of the holiday season and using some in real time as you navigate through it can help reduce your stress levels. In doing so, remember to be kind to yourself. It’s not about creating the perfect plan; it’s about finding ways to feel better this holiday season, feel more at ease and less stressed, not completely stress free.

Holiday ornaments