Coping with Holiday Stress

By Therese J. Borchard 

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many of us, it’s also the most stressful time of the year. The little things—like picking out a Christmas present for your stepmother’s cousin whom you have yet to meet or lying to Uncle Tom about how delicious his fruitcake was—pile on top of each other to create undue stress.

Working your way through. 
According to Mental Health America, several factors contribute to the craziness we feel during the holiday season: fatigue, unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, financial constraints, and the inability to celebrate the holidays with one’s family and friends.

Here are a few suggestions meant to put the joy back into your holiday and the stress packaged up with the fruitcake on its way back to Uncle Tom.

Simplify. 
Is it really possible to cut your to-do list in half during the month of December? It is if you ask yourself this question after every item listed there: “Does my survival depend on accomplishing this task?”

You might need to stand in front of a mirror and practice saying the word “no” until it feels natural. That way, when you hear the words “Can you …” you will be prepared to give the answer you might need to give before your mind goes into default and signs up for the task.

Set some boundaries.
December is a great month to build snowmen—and boundaries—between you and the well-intentioned but difficult person sitting next to you at dinner.

You can protect yourself by coming up with a list of excuses beforehand as to why you must leave early. You can bring a “safe” friend with you. And you can choreograph the night well in advance so that you know whom to sit next to, whom to avoid, what topics are “bathroom break” material, and how to direct a conversation without it approaching too many sensitive issues.

In other words, you take the reins and control the evening, versus it controlling you.

Make your own traditions. 
One of the easiest ways to build boundaries and reduce stress during the holidays is to create your own traditions.

The best way to control a situation is to own it, and make it new. There are a plethora of ways you can do that: spicing up traditional holiday rituals with a personalized touch, like adding a new Christmas tree trimming ceremony or gingerbread-decorating party.

Watch your diet.
Here’s the catch-22: the more stressed you get, the more you crave seasonal coffee drinks and delicious holiday treats. But the more candy cane cookies you digest, the more stressed you get. And the result is that you feel increasingly more fragile, stressed, and depressed.

Cultivate a sense of humor.
Did you know that laughter can reduce stress in practically every human organ, or that humor can boost our immune system and fight viruses?

A little laughter and wit make everything tolerable—even a last-minute work deadline, an uncooperative mother, or a teenager with an unrealistic Christmas list.

Perform works of kindness.
The holidays are a great time to give back to our communities, but that can create its own stress. I like to pick something small to do each year—like buy a few gifts for a local family in need—as a way of turning my attention away from the things that aren’t going as expected toward the bigger and truer picture…like all the blessings that surround me.

Take heart.
The holidays are inherently stressful with our loaded schedules, unrealistic expectations, difficult loved ones, financial worries, a gnawing loneliness, and the pressure to be happy.

With some effort and forethought, we can enjoy the holidays, or at least enough to sing a Christmas carol and retrieve the nativity scene from storage. Christmas is, after all, about the birth of Jesus, and his gift of life to us all.

Excerpt taken from Coping with Holiday Stress CareNote.

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