The weather is cooler, the scents of pine and cinnamon fill the air and holiday music has begun its annual takeover of radio stations. Holidays are a joyous time, meant to remind us of the vital importance of family and friends. However, with all the hustle and bustle, it’s easy for the joy of the season to turn into stress and even exacerbate depression symptoms.
“Sometimes we get so caught up in the traditions of the season that it detracts from the true meaning of the holidays,” says Willa Decker, MSN, MA, RN, FNP-BC, clinical assistant professor and mental health expert at the Texas A&M College of Nursing.
“In the long run, stress can have a debilitating effect on our overall health,” Decker noted. “Around 75 to 95 percent of people in hospitals are admitted due to stress-related symptoms.”
We sat down with Decker to discuss ways to minimize the stress and maximize the joy this holiday season:
1. Make a list
Lists aren’t just for Santa. Holidays are a great time for everyone to make lists: to do lists, shopping lists, grocery lists that reach the floor and more! But making a list of annual Yuletide anxiety inducers can help you keep your peace of mind. “Part of dealing with stress is acknowledging what causes it,” Decker said. Compiling a list of certain activities or traditions that bring you stress during the holiday season can help you be more aware, and focus on ways to relax.
“Identify what was stressful last holiday season, or maybe even this holiday season as you progress through it and think of one or two possible solutions for each stressor you think of,” Decker advised. “Even if only a few solutions work, you can use them next year and focus on finding ways to alleviate the stress brought on by other activities.”
2. Let it go
When it comes to family gatherings, old feuds can be hard to overcome, but the best way to lessen the stress of the season is to let it go. “Try and find some way to resolve the friction for the holidays. This doesn’t mean you have to become best friends, but try to make the situation neutral,” Decker suggested.
3. Saying “no” doesn’t make you a Grinch
“We tend to overextend ourselves during the holiday season,” Decker noted. Instead of trying to do everything, try to limit your commitments to a more reasonable range.
If it’s hard for you to say no to people, but you can’t devote the time for the task they ask of you, consider asking them for time to reevaluate your schedule. This strategy will bide time to brainstorm ways to gently turn them down.
Holidays don’t have to be stressful, but taking on more responsibilities than you can handle is a sure-fire way to turn you into a grumpy Santa’s little helper.
4. Break out the calendar
Sure, December is the last page of your calendar, but it doesn’t mean you should just ignore it. And just because it’s the busiest time of the year with gift giving and party planning, doesn’t mean that those everyday tasks disappear. Decker suggests using your calendar to help you keep track of events and daily tasks that you need to complete throughout the month. This will help you visualize what you need to get done and will help you from overcommitting this season.
5. Utilize your senses
If the flurry of activities and responsibilities are catching up to you, light a soothing candle or listen to your favorite holiday song. Our senses play a large part in developing our overall mood. Decker proposes trying to soothe all of our senses to help us relax—whether that means making your house smell like gingerbread or lowering the wattage of your lights to take some stress off of your eyes.
6. Limit the clutter to a room
There are few things that can cause as much stress than feeling like Santa set up shop in every room of your house. As the old adage goes: a clean home is a happy home. Keeping the mayhem of the holidays from taking over your home may help you relax and enjoy the season.
“The clutter and mess of gifts and wrapping paper can really contribute undue stress,” Decker said. “Limiting the chaos to a single room can help ease tension.”
7. Take a step back
When you feel like your drowning in a sea of wrapping paper and ornaments, try to come up for air. “Our thoughts have a tremendous impact on how we respond to situations,” Decker said. “Taking a step back and evaluating how we perceive a situation can help us change how we react to it.”
If the stress just becomes too much to handle, take a downbeat. “You can’t give what you don’t have, so it’s important to take care of yourself too,” Decker said.
8. Challenge traditions
Every family has their own Yuletide traditions; but if the tradition is something that only gives you a headache every year, maybe it’s time to rethink the necessity of it. Do you have to send holiday cards to that twice-removed, distant cousin, whom you’ve never met before?
“Sometimes we don’t challenge traditions enough. If it’s something that doesn’t bring you joy, you don’t have to carry out the tradition for tradition’s sake,” Decker advised.
9. Find your sense of humor
“There are great physiological benefits to humor: Over time it helps reduce our blood pressure, it massages our internal organs and it releases endorphins that make us feel better. Even forced humor can cause these benefits,” Decker said.
Decker also issued the caveat of knowing when humor is appropriate. If someone associates the holidays with a time of loss, or some other form of grief, a joke may not be the best way to relieve stress. It’s important to stay mindful of people’s feelings.
10. Identify and magnify your strengths
Maybe you’re a wizard in the kitchen or happen to be fantastic at papier-mâché—whatever your strength is, capitalize on it. Offer to help cook at family gatherings if it’s something you enjoy or lend a helping hand in decorations.
“People feel better when they are able to help with something they’re good at,” Decker said. Sticking to your strengths can help you contribute in a more meaningful way and feel better about it.
No matter how you celebrate the holidays, remember to take the time to relax and enjoy this holiday season!
SOURCE: Texas A&M University, College of Nursing