10 Ways to Handle Holiday-Season Stress

Ashley Gulden headshot
Mental Health
December 15, 2017
Young boy with face mask on during holiday trolley ride

Bells start to jingle, the flakes start to fly, and stores start to shine: It’s holiday season! The trick is to catch the spirit of the season without the stress. Easier said then done. With that in mind, licensed psychologist Ashley Gulden here at North Memorial Health offers up some easy ways to make the holiday season more ho-ho-ho than ho-hum.

1. Reduce Stress with Mindfulness

It’s really easy to get caught up in stressful what-ifs and shoulda-beens, especially around the holidays. Practice staying in the moment and immersing yourself fully in relationships with family, friends, traditions, and rituals that make this holiday season memorable. Not only will you feel better day to day, but you’ll also be an active part of creating cherished memories for the future.

2. Relax with Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is one proven way to reduce stress in your body. When you take slow, deep breaths, it sends a message to your brain to calm your nervous system and relax. There are many different types of breathing exercises to relieve stress and tension, but an easy one to begin with is belly breathing. Breathe in through your nose, and allow your belly to expand as your breath does. Exhale through your mouth, allowing your belly to soften. Practice several times and notice how you feel before and after. Ahh.

3. Take Time to be Thankful

Making a regular practice of acknowledging your gratitude has been shown to help reduce stress and depression. Best of all, it requires little buy-in when it comes to time or money. Keep a gratitude journal or notebook by your bed. Before you go to sleep, write three simple things for which you feel grateful. Or take time to express your gratitude to someone that has impacted your life, whether in person, or in a letter. Sharing that gratitude will feel good, too.

4. Prioritize “me time”

Take time for yourself and engage in activities that reduce stress and tension. Popular options include massage, reading, exercising, crafts, or listening to music. Spend time with supportive, caring people. As you give to others this season, also make sure you give to yourself, too. Think of what you’d tell your spouse or close friend about how they should treat themselves—you’re allowed that same grace and kindness. Be your own best friend.

5. Unbottle Your Emotions

Holidays can be fraught with all kinds of stressful emotions. They can be hard when we are reminded of loved ones who have died, or we have conflict, or if we can’t be with beloved family or friends. Remember, sadness and grief are normal and natural. Take time to acknowledge and express your feelings.

6. Don’t Neglect Healthy Habits

Holidays are fun in part because they are indulgent. But be sure not to lose your hard-won healthy habits completely among the tinsel and mistletoe. Basics include getting enough sleep, fresh food, and exercise. Consuming alcohol in moderation—and don’t forget alcohol is a depressant, so if you feel down, don’t drink. Need a boost? Exercise and movement stimulate endorphins in the brain, which lead to happier feelings.

7. Be Realistic and Set Limits

Somewhere along the way holidays started to become synonymous with excess. But we know deep down that’s not true. Set reasonable expectations for holiday activities such as shopping, cooking, attending parties, and sending cards. Keep it simple and remember it is okay to say no. Honor your limits and you’ll feel that much more in control and that much less stressed.

8. Stay on a Budget

Plan ahead and set a budget for the season; it’s so tempting and easy to go overboard. Find ways to share your gratitude and love for others without spending a lot of money. Attempt to give to charity in honor of someone—that’s a gift that does double duty. Share homemade gifts or start a gift exchange and reduce cost, clutter and stress. When you come out with a stable bank balance in the New Year, that’s one less resolution you’ll have to tackle.

9. Reach Out for Support

If stress begins to interfere with your daily life, seek professional help right away. Your primary care or mental health provider can help you with strategies and tools to combat stress that starts to chronically make you feel sad, down, overwhelmed, sleepless, hopeless, or plagued by physical complaints this holiday season. You don’t have to suffer.

10. Have Fun

Hopefully, your holidays are about spending time with people you enjoy and love. Focus on fun, connecting, and relaxation this holiday season. You deserve it!

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