While Christmas is known as “the season to be jolly,” it can be a significant source of stress, pressure, and conflict for many of us. Some people can feel overwhelmed by the excess, expectations, and exchange and become depressed during the holidays.
A lack of time and money, credit card debt, and the pressure of gift giving can often contribute to stress during the holiday season.
Most of us are aware of the adverse effects that stress can have on our body. It can impact our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and it can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity if left unchecked.
In fact, research has shown that there is an increase in the occurrence of heart attacks and heart-related deaths during the festive season, which may be due to stress, heavy alcohol consumption, a fatty diet, or all three. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that holiday stress is dealt with — pronto.
With all the cooking, decorating, visiting, and gift giving, the holidays can seem more like trying to meet a high-pressure deadline than a vacation. So, try these Christmas stress-busting strategies to ease the strain and help stress melt away.
1. Limit spending
Money issues are one of the leading causes of stress during the holiday season, according to a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2004. Recent data collected in the APA’s annual Stress in America survey reflect this finding and report that 62 percent of us feel stressed about money.
Holiday retail sales in November and December 2017 are expected to increase between 3.6 and 4 percent and total between $678.75 billion to $682 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. These figures are up from $655.8 billion last year.
Gift buying, entertainment, and travel can all fuel financial burden, even for the savviest shoppers. However, here are some steps that you can take to limit financial stress.
Set a budget. First of all, make sure that all your usual expenses are accounted for so that you do not fall short on bills such as rent. Plan for any other spending over the holidays, including any parties you may be hosting or traveling to visit friends or family.
Once these items have been subtracted from your budget, you can then work out how much you can spend on gifts. Being organized and realistic about your budget will help you to ensure that you do not overspend.
Make one financial decision at a time. Make sure that you space spending-related decisions out. Trying to make too many decisions at once can be overwhelming, which can lead to depletion of your willpower and an increased risk of overspending.
Avoid temptation. It is often impossible to steer clear of stores and shopping malls altogether over the festive season, but limiting the time that you spend in these places can also help you to curb your spending.
Manage impulsive spending by taking only the cash you can afford to spend on shopping trips and leaving all credit and debit cards at home.
Recognize how you deal with stress-related money problems. Sometimes, during tough economic moments, individuals turn to smoking, alcohol, gambling, or excessive eating to try to relieve stress. These behaviors can lead to arguments and conflicts between partners and families.
Be mindful and seek help from a healthcare professional if you find that these behaviors are causing you problems.
Keep in mind what is important. Overspending can overshadow the true sentiment of Christmas. If your expense list exceeds your monthly budget, keep in mind that your relationships with friends and family are more important than material objects.
2. Manage expectations
Everyone has an idea in their heads of the perfect holiday, but when reality falls short of the vision, stress can ensue. Try to manage expectations with these simple tips.
Despite your grand plans, no event ever runs seamlessly, and this also rings true for holiday celebrations. Rather than accumulating stress along the way from any mishaps that might occur, view these miniature calamities as an opportunity to exercise flexibility and resilience.
Dinner being 30 minutes late, spilling food on your festive outfit, or having a lop-sided tree is not going to ruin your day. Instead, they’ll create fond memories that you can reflect on in years to come.
Help children to be realistic
When children get older and start to become more aware of what they want and what their friends have, parents can feel pressurized to deliver, meet their expectations, and provide them with the perfect presents.
Help your child to create a wishlist that outlines any gifts they desire. Make sure they know that they will not receive everything on the list and highlight anything that is not acceptable or obtainable.
Remind your child that Christmas is about being together, not a list of presents to tick off a list. Planning fun activities that encourage everyone to come together and have fun can create excitement.
Take some time out
Carrying the world on your shoulders and trying to achieve everything alone during the holidays can take its toll on your mind and body.
Enlist some help in accomplishing some of the tasks on your list and take some time out. Destressing can benefit you and the rest of your family. Focus on doing something that you find relaxing to recharge your batteries, such as reading a book, watching a Christmas movie, listening to music, or going for a massage.
3. Avoid overindulging
‘Tis the season for indulgence, and whether it be a festive holiday party or a family dinner, we are surrounded by extravagant foods and alcoholic drinks.
Although many of us only gain an extra pound during the holiday period, that extra pound may build up over the coming years and contribute to obesity later in life, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Excessive stress raises appetite and cravings for sugary and fatty foods, and chronic drinking can further exacerbate stress by raising levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Dietitians from the University of Missouri in Columbia recommend that families should aim to maintain healthful dietary habits during the holidays in order to avoid weight gain and stress.
- Eat a healthful diet during the day. Eat some high-protein snacks, such as yogurt or an apple with peanut butter, so that you are not too hungry by the time that dinner arrives.
- Make simple food swaps. Eat whole-wheat bread instead of white, and brown rice instead of white, to help keep you feeling fuller for longer.
- Be treat-wise. Enjoy seasonal treats, but try to control portion sizes.
If you do find yourself overindulging, maintain perspective. One day of indulgence will not lead to significant weight gain, as long as you plan to get back on track with healthful food choices and exercise the next day.
4. Go for a walk
The antidote for holiday stress could be just as simple as taking a walk around the block. Research demonstrates that physical activity reorganizes the brain in such a way that it reduces its response to stress.
Regular exercise can help to decrease tension and boost and stabilize mood. Furthermore, exercising produces endorphins — natural painkilling chemicals that are released in the brain — that improve your ability to sleep and reduce stress.
Research also shows that if you convince the rest of the family to leave the couch and come along on the walk with you, your stress levels will be reduced even further.
Researchers found that working out in a group reduced stress levels by 26 percent and improved physical, mental, and emotional quality of life.
5. Have some fun
As you decorate the tree or bake festive cookies, forget all the items left on your to-do list and give yourself permission to have fun.
Laughter goes a long way in the fight against stress and could be just what the doctor ordered.
Laughter lightens your mood, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and also releases endorphins. Laughter also boosts circulation, helps muscles relax, and lessens the physical symptoms that are associated with stress.
Whether your laughter is powered by sidesplitting moments in your favorite movie, jokes at the dinner table, a holiday prank, or an afternoon of fun activities, be sure to include some holiday humor, giggles, and guffaws. Even looking forward to a funny event raises relaxation-inducing hormones and decreases stress hormones.
Finding positive, healthful ways to manage stress could reduce many of the related adverse health consequences. Finding stress-busting techniques that work best for you can enable you to have a stress-free Christmas.
Article by Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School