How to Beat Holiday Stress

Holiday Stress and Ways to Combat it

The holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be a time that brings about stress and depression. That being said, we have designed this guide to show you how to beat holiday stress. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), the holidays are a stressful time for the majority of people because of reasons such as intensified focus on family, productivity and finances. Besides, it is found that women are more likely than men to have “holiday blues”. It is almost impossible to not feel tension when trying to juggle tasks within a short period of time. To help you enjoy a stress-free holiday season, we put together some information to help you understand common sources of holiday stressors, along with recommendations to help you combat the holiday stress.

Take a look at some common drivers of stress and recommended holiday stress management tips.

Circle of Joy Holiday Cards

Circle of Joy by Karidy Walker

Doing Too Much

Preparation for the holidays often comes with a long to-do list - taking holiday card photos, stocking up on gift wrapping supplies, going gift shopping, figuring out your holiday budget, decorating the Christmas tree, planning holiday parties, and getting the house ready before guests arrive. Depending on how meticulous people are in their holiday preparations, things can get busy even before October hits. Though you might want to maximize your time during the holidays to do as much as you can, the reality is that there is just not enough time in the day. And by over-committing yourself to too many things, you can end up experiencing an increase in your sense of duty and burden, which causes mental stress. Without moderation and sufficient breaks, these tasks can easily become like chores and provoke the feelings of disorientation and stress.

Set Priorities

To avoid a swamped schedule, you need to set priorities and appropriate expectations. You only have 24 hours a day, with a day-time job, kids, house chores and other personal engagement, the amount of time you have to actually plan and fulfill a comprehensive holiday to-do list is not much. Rather than trying to accomplish too much and setting yourself up for failure, you should be realistic and ask yourself, “What are my top 3 priorities for this holiday season?” Perhaps it is to host a warm dinner for close family members, or purchase gifts for each of the loved ones, or plan a trip out-of-country with the kids. No matter what it is, try to minimize your priorities and allocate time and resources around those things. On top of that, try using a planner to organize your tasks so they are not all in your head.

Here are some other tips to avoid holiday stress by helping you form realistic holiday commitments:

  • Identify the reasons you can’t say no to things. Perhaps it’s a sense of guilt, or fear of rejection. Whatever the root cause, it is important to take a step back and process such emotions. Once you do that, you can practice saying no to invitations or requests from other people.
  • Think about the things that you value the most during the holidays. Some examples – time with family and friends, interests, rest, emotional well-being. Take the time to rank them and only say yes to things that actually fit in the category of things you cherish and value the most.
  • Ask for help! A lot of times, people can get very caught up in doing things themselves, when there are actually other people and resources available around them to help them complete their tasks better and more swiftly. For instance, if you are in charge of cooking for your family holiday dinner, try to include some siblings or relatives to do it alongside you. Or, instead of staying up till 12am to wrap christmas presents by yourself, make it a family activity and do it with your kids. Be creative and try to incorporate more people to assist you in your holiday projects.

How to Deal with Holiday Financial Stress

The holiday season usually comes with large spendings. According to eMarketer, Americans spent more than $1 trillion last holiday season (2018), the strongest growth since 2011. The increasing holiday consumption has to do with low employment, rapid income growth as well as high consumer confidence. In terms of consumer level spending,the National Retail Federation says that winter holidays has the highest average planned spending per person ($1007.24) throughout the year. Without proper budgeting, many likely end up with credit card debts and a smaller disposable income for self-care, which can lead to unhealthy emotions.

Create a Holiday Spending Budget

Below is a step-by-step guide to show you how to beat holiday stress by figuring out your budget for the holiday season

1. Come up with your holiday expenses list
First of all, sit down and list out all the holiday expenses you will have. This might include items such as gifts and gift wrapping supplies, holiday cards, holiday decorations, travelling expenses, holiday dinner parties, and donations to various charities. Log them on a spreadsheet, a journal, or whatever medium that you find most convenient.

2. Set the limit
Once you have your list of potential expenses, move onto examining your disposable income and savings, and determine the amount you feel comfortable spending. It is always tempting to be overly generous during the holidays, so it is important to remain realistic and honest about your financial situation and only spend the money you have.

3. Allocate money
Now, you can start categorizing your expenses into several buckets. It might look something like this: Christmas Dinner, Gifts for Family, Gifts for Friends, Gifts Exchange at Work, Holiday Travels, House Decor etc. Then, you should do a little bit of thinking and prioritization, and assign a set amount to each of these categories. The money serves as a limit to prevent you from overspending.

Pattern Play by Seven Swans

Pattern Play by Seven Swans

4. Track your Expenses
Once you have your expenses planned, categorized and your money allocated, you can go ahead and do the fun part - shop! As you begin shopping, make sure to keep all the receipts and log each item on a budget sheet. Frequently return to the sheet and evaluate your spending patterns. Most importantly, make sure to stick to the budget.

Some other helpful holiday stress management tips to ensure that you keep your holiday spending under budget:

  • Conducting research by comparing gift prices across sites or department stores
  • Be creative with your gift wrapping supplies and repurpose leftover materials you may have saved up over the years
  • Reduce the use of credit cards and spend only with cash available to you
  • Instead of purchasing individual gifts for each friend and family member, host a festive gathering to express your gratitude and appreciation towards them
Stocking, oven mitts, journal, photo gifts

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder

Another cause of holiday stress has to do with the changes of seasons. According to Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a category of depression which starts around the fall and lasts throughout the winter season, when there is less natural sunlight. Many who suffer from SAD experience their energy being depleted and a moodier emotional state. Here are some of the signs and symptoms:

  • Frequent depressive emotions
  • Low energy
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain
  • Feelings of sluggishness and irritation
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Suicidal thoughts

Though it is hard to quantify how much SAD actually contributes to holiday stress, it is helpful to have it in the back of your head as you try to diagnose the causes of your frazzledness during the holiday season.

Here are some other ways you can try to combat SAD and additional ideas on how to beat holiday stress:

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

Regular exercise is a simple yet powerful way to alleviate SAD symptoms during the cold winter months. Try to implement regular cadence in your schedule to run a mile or bike around the neighborhood. In fact, when the body is in an active mode, the brain activates a type of chemicals called endorphins, which interacts with the brain receptors to reduce the perception of pain. Another thing that this chemical does is to generate a positive feeling, which causes the people who are exercising to feel energized and uplifted, which further boosts self-esteem.

Light Exposure

Increasing your body’s exposure to natural light helps alleviate SAD symptoms by regulating the rhythm of the body and the mind. You can do simple things, such as opening up the blinds or curtains more frequently and taking on strolls during the daytime. We know that daylight tends to be more limited during the winter months, so another way to combat this is to utilize light therapy. This is typically done via a light box that gives off light rays mimicking natural light. You may place the box close to where you usually sit or work, and make sure to not stare at it directly to minimize damages or irritation to the eyes.

See a Professional

If all things fail, go seek out help from a mental health professional or doctor. They can help you conduct diagnosis and provide appropriate remedies, such as light therapy and psychotherapy.

How to alleviate stress around gift giving

Finding the right gift for the right person can bring a lot of joy. However, gift giving is not as straightforward as it sounds, and often times it can easily become a source of stress during the holidays. Choosing an appropriate, affordable gift is one thing; navigating the complicated web of relationships and ensuring not to upset or imply wrong intentions is another. Gifts can be used to symbolize reconciliation, affection, love, or negative gestures, such as retaliation and indifference. To gift-givers, giving a gift implies a certain level of risk and provokes self-consciousness: “Is the gift too cheap and shallow? Is it the right way of packaging it? Will they think I’m showing off or trying too hard to make an impression? What if they get me the same thing? Will others think I’m playing favoritism?” Doubts and self-talk can unconsciously consume your mind without you even noticing. And the next thing you realize is that you become stressed.

Here are some ways to calibrate your attitude towards gift-giving:

Stop Worrying

Instead of having automatic negative thoughts and generating many imaginary scenarios of how others will receive the gift poorly, take a step back and remind yourself that other people’s reactions are things beyond your control. Focus on your positive intentions and embrace the unpredictable outcome. Another way to scale down our fears is to know that authentic relationships are not defined by gifts exclusively, but the quality time spent, words of affirmation and shared experiences. If the person receiving your gift seems unreasonably disappointed or irritated, this may be a sign of their materialism and shallowness, and you may take this opportunity to evaluate your relationship with him or her.

Minted Gifts

No More Guesswork

Rather than trying to guess what your family members or friends would like to receive for the holidays, create a “WishList” for them to input what they prefer, or even down to the specifics. This can effectively reduce the amount of mental work for you so you can focus on purchasing the gifts you already know will be practical, fitting and preferred by the recipients. Getting a gift for someone you don’t know too much about can also cause headaches. We have prepared a list of Secret Santa gift ideas that may help you with some ideas.

Skip the Gifts

Another way to rid your gift-gifting stress is to refrain from it completely. Instead of spending much of your bandwidth to customize each gift and tailor to each person’s preferences, do something different yet thoughtful, such as writing a personal note or giving homemade cookies or jam. If you would like to treat a group of people, such as your old college friends, co-workers, neighbors or distant relatives, you may even throw a dinner party or cozy hangout at your home.

We hope that you find the above tips to avoid holiday stress helpful as you navigate through the holiday seasons. Remember that whatever stress you may be going through, there is a way to beat it. So take a deep breath, be smart about your holiday planning, and be all there for those whom you love. Isn’t that the point of the holidays after all?

Kids baking cookies