Christmas is supposed to be a merry time. Instead, it's often an occasion for overspending, overdoing, and overeating - and that can leave you feeling stressed, tired, and down on yourself.
High expectations, financial difficulties, and increased social demands or lack of family and friends can make this an overwhelming time of year. And for those grieving the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be especially painful.
"When stress is at its peak, it's hard to stop and regroup," said Franciscan Health Behavioral Health Services Manager Christian Ellis-Frederick, LCSW. "It's best to try to prevent depression and stress in advance, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past."
But it's not too late to reclaim your holiday spirit. These tips can help you recapture the joy of the holiday season and take better care of your health.
How Can I Reduce Holiday Stress?
Your number one priority for reducing holiday stress: Don't aim for the perfect Christmas. It doesn't exist. Striving for the perfect holiday celebration only leads to frustration and disappointment. Instead, focus on having a relaxing, meaningful holiday that honors your personal, cultural, and religious traditions.
Check out these strategies for helping reduce holiday stress over the hectic December holidays.
- Limit your commitments. The holiday season is filled with parties and school and work functions. But you don't have to attend all of them. Go to the gatherings that mean the most to you and skip the rest. You can simply tell people that you have other plans. Everyone understands this is a busy time of year, and no one has to know that your plans include PJs, the couch and your favorite TV shows.
- Simplify. Cut your "to-do" list. Delegate and get help. Teaching others to respect your time and having realistic goals are helpful.
- Make choices that are good for you and your family. Follow your usual schedule for meals, exercise and sleep as much as possible.
How Can I Reduce Money Stress After the Holidays?
The easiest way to reduce financial stress after the holidays? Being aware of your spending beforehand. Spending beyond your means leads to stress - and money worries can dog you well into the new year.
Strategies to reduce money stress after the holidays include:
- Avoid gift-giving frenzies. It can be discouraging, and embarrassing when you don't have the funds to buy holiday gifts. Rather than racking up credit card debt, make homemade gifts or suggest a gift exchange so you can buy one gift instead of something for everyone in your group.
- Consider alternative gifts or give homemade items if money is a problem. Those may include something you can make or a card with the offer to provide a task or chore.
- Share your time by volunteering as a family, social group or a department team. A great way to distract yourself from worries and sharpen your awareness of what you have to be thankful for is to help others. There are numerous volunteer opportunities during the holiday season – try dishing out meals at a soup kitchen or collecting clothing for a coat drive. . It's a great way to tap into the true spirit of holiday giving. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll feel happier making a difference.
Focusing on the original meaning of a faith-based or secular holiday can help overcome guilt associated with the inability to buy the gifts we would like.
How Can I Relieve Stress During the Holidays?
During this time of year, it's easy to get caught up in all the "have-to-do's." But setting aside time to indulge in something just for you – a massage, a meditation session, a long walk, reading a book – is more important than checking yet another holiday obligation off the list. Even spending just 15 minutes a day doing an activity you enjoy can keep you centered and calm.
“As the year ends and we start to become busier with year-end workloads, shopping for the holidays, prepping for the family to come to town, it is important to take a moment for yourself.
“When the thoughts of your year-end to-do list come across your mind, you may notice yourself tensing back up,” said Briana Wilson, Wellness Promotion Specialist. “Take a moment to focus back on your breath. Think about all you have accomplished over the last year. Use this opportunity to be kind to yourself and practice gratitude within.”
If finding time to take care of your physical and mental health is a challenge during the busy holidays, check out these suggestions to cope:
- When things start feeling hectic rather than fun, give yourself permission to put up fewer decorations or turn down some invitations.
- Don't overload your schedule and put pressure on yourself and others. Anticipate the stress that may occur if you pile too many extra activities on top of your already-busy schedule.
- Release tension and clear your mind by going for a walk, exercise, listening to music, reading or some other healthy activity that helps you unwind.
- Get as much sunlight as possible. Reduced exposure to light and less vitamin D from sunlight have been linked with depression. If you can't get outside, consider using a sun therapy light. Be sure you get enough vitamin D in your diet or take a multivitamin.
- Get plenty of exercise. If you can't get outdoors, try a gym or walk the halls at work or at a mall. Exercise benefits both mind and body. Being physically active is a free, and nearly instant, mood booster. Studies show that exercise treatment for depression can be as effective as antidepressants in some people. Whether you have 10 minutes or an hour, using that time to move your body will pay off in happiness dividends.
- Plan stress-free family time. For example, get dinner delivered and don't feel obliged to go to every holiday get-together put on by family and friends.
Check out these ideas to develop healthier holiday traditions.
What If I Have Lost a Loved One and Don't Feel Like Celebrating?
If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, your holidays may look different. Here are some suggestions:
- Develop new traditions. Reaffirm your spirituality. Focus on family.
- Examine your holiday rituals and traditions. Keep those that are enjoyable and meaningful. Create new rituals that fit your current lifestyle.
- If stressed or lonely, reach out to others for support.
Make a point to talk to supportive people during the holiday season. Schedule phone or coffee dates with a friend or family member. It's important to share what you're going through and let others offer emotional support. Get more ideas for handling grief during the holidays.
Find the Support You Need
If you're having difficulty coping with your emotions or functioning on a daily basis, our behavioral health experts can help. Get the care you need to feel better during an emotionally taxing season.
You should seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts, are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, or are using drugs or alcohol more frequently as a result of stress. If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide, call or chat with the confidential toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Lifeline chat is a service available to everyone.