Family get-togethers, Christmas gifts, parties, New Year’s resolutions and bucket lists – while they are meant to bring feelings of peace, hope and love, for many of us, they can also be a major cause of holiday stress.

It is too easy to overspend during preparations. Gift shopping can become an obligation that annually maxes out your credit card, and the process of picking the “right” gift for everyone on your list could be a potential stressor too. There always seem to be better options, better sales and bargains going on elsewhere.

Family time can also be dreadful for some. Get-togethers with friends and family can devolve into hard conversations, political topics, marriage problems, racism, peer comparison, or other sensitive topics. You may feel overcome by loneliness and the feeling of being misunderstood even when surrounded by relatives and friends.

Other potential stress inducers include big Christmas dinners (it’s easy to resort to bad habits – binging on desserts, overloading on alcohol); loneliness when you are away from friends and family; unresolved family issues and memories associated with holidays; and, of course, feeling possibly lost or disappointed when you reflect on the previous year’s New Year’s resolutions.

If the holiday stress is getting on your nerves, you are not alone. According to a 2015 survey conducted by Healthline, 62% of respondents described their stress level as “very or somewhat” elevated during the holidays, while only 10% reported no stress during the season (Edwards, 2017).

To help you cope with the holiday blues, here are 5 helpful tips to manage your stress level, and to guide the post-holiday days in a more positive direction:

1. Set healthy expectations

No family is perfect, nor is any holiday party. On the whole, the holiday season is short. If a part of a conversation goes wrong, or if you forgot to buy an ingredient for that recipe you have planned out, realize it’s not the end of the world. A pudding that tastes slightly off won’t ruin everyone’s holiday – it creates a family memory.

2. Take time to relax

Try to plan some time for yourself. Cuddle with your pet, stop for a cup of tea before moving from one task to the next, listen to your favorite song, or simply spend some time alone.

3. Don’t pause your workout schedule

Keeping up with your daily exercise routine during the holiday season is hard, given the many demands on your time and attention, but there is no reason to stop exercising – in fact, it is easier for regular exercisers to become depressed within the first week after they stop exercising. Your brain gets used to the “runner’s high” – the increased production of feel-good neurotransmitters after a good workout.

4. Change your focus

Try to appreciate the warm events and good things that happened during the holiday instead of dwelling on the mishaps. If you are religious, take time to focus on the spiritual meanings and significance of the holiday.

5. Ask for support.

Accepting help from close friends and supportive family members can decrease your stress level by sharing some of your burden. Use the holiday season as a chance to reconnect with friends and family and rebuild your support network. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, you may want to talk to a therapist who can help you better manage stress, listen to your true needs, and come up with a progressive schedule to change unhealthy behaviors.

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Citation:

Edwards, S. (2017). Holiday Stress and the Brain. Retrieved December 9, 2018, from http://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/holiday-stress-and-brain