Feeling the holiday cheer? Or is it more like holiday fear?
Though many festive fans eagerly anticipate the arrival of the holiday season – an equally large portion are dreading the same event. While Christmas and similar celebrations can definitely represent a joyous and happy time – enriched by connections with friends and families – there’s also a great deal of expectations, and a significant amount of stress to deal with. From preparing for the arrival of family that you’d rather not see, to dealing with the complications of the holiday office party – there are plenty of reasons to start pulling out your hair – instead of the Christmas crackers.
While forgetting to wrap presents or burning the turkey represent problems in their own right – the fact is that family and tradition are the aspects that cause the most stress in many people. Experts say that the holidays make people feel out of control – overwhelmed by the demands of relatives, steamrolled by family tradition, and weighed down by expectations. However, it doesn’t have to be that way!
Following, we’re going to address some of the best ways that you can take control of your festive season and start enjoying what Christmas is all about!
Finding Your Triggers
First things first.
Before you can start fighting back against common holiday stressors, you’re going to need to recognize what commonly causes discomfort and emotional turmoil for you during the festive season. Everyone reacts differently to certain stimuli, and once you’ve waded through the general sense of dread that comes with standard family gatherings, you should be able to identify specific problems, and diagnose ways to address them.
For many people, the clear majority of holiday stress is caused by:
Regardless of whether we’ve managed to stick scrupulously to our budget over the months leading up to Christmas, most of us feel that we’re honor-bound to buy huge gifts and splurge on festive treats for the season. In fact, there’s so many expectations surrounding the concept of gift-giving and party hosting, that some people end up putting themselves into debt simply to stay on top of what they perceive to be the social norm. If financial stress is getting you down – remember that your loved ones will forgive you for keeping your money to yourself. No-one expects you to spend cash you don’t have, so don’t feel pressured.
Whether you’re going home for the holidays, or you’re bringing home to you, the festive season usually sparks old memories and deep feelings – particularly from childhood. Since our younger years can often represent a significant period of stress and may even prompt feelings of inadequacy, it’s not unusual to find yourself regressing into a younger emotional state. If you find yourself dwelling on old memories, the best thing you can do is shake things up, and try to keep your mind on the present – as difficult as that might sound.
Difficult family dynamics
Most of the time, the holiday season puts you into the same room with relatives that you might otherwise avoid the remainder of the year. People who have already been suffering from stress, or other issues within their life may face certain stigmas too – or be expected to answer questions that they’re not comfortable with. As rude as it may seem – the best thing you can do is avoid relatives that grind your gears, or tell them – head on, that you don’t want to address certain topics. They can’t force you to talk about anything that you don’t want to.
Lowered physical defenses
During the festive season, the chances are that your typical errands and obligations will lead to more stress than usual. Many of us feel as though we have just enough time in the day to manage the chores that we take on for ourselves from a career, to a family life. However, when Christmas rolls around, you also need to think about a range of other things – from presents and parties, to almost constant planning. This extra work is likely to lead to exhaustion and fatigue, which lowers your immune system and makes you more prone to illness. To fight back – your aim should be on maintaining your physical health as much as possible. Eat well, exercise, focus on you.
The Things that Change (and Stay the Same)
Finally, the holidays can have a habit of highlighting the things that have changed in your life. From a child that’s gone to college, to a death in the family. Christmas prompts you to reflect on the previous celebrations you’ve had over the years, and what’s changed since then. At the same time, other people find that it’s not what changed – but what stays the same that bothers them. The monotonous nature of family gatherings can sometimes lead to depression, discomfort, and internal turmoil.
Starting Christmas Right
So how can you fight back against all the different stressful factors that are snowballing you at Christmas? You’ll need to start by getting into the right mindset. This means:
- Being Realistic – Stop getting hung up over what the Christmas holidays are “supposed” to be, or how you’re “supposed” to feel. Remind yourself that things will probably go wrong – and that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the world.
- Ignoring the “Disaster” voice – Don’t anticipate that everything is going to go wrong – or convince yourself that something terrible is going to happen. Limit your expectations – both good, and bad.
- Forgetting the small stuff – Try not to run yourself into the ground trying to follow tradition. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t hang the lights or use the Christmas plates from the loft this year. Relax and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Once you’ve got your head into the right place, follow these five top tips for festive relaxation.
- Schedule Time to Relax
Creating a time-table for your relaxation needs might seem silly – but it’s probably the best way to make sure that you get the R&R you need over the festive season. Planning everything in advance, from the shopping that you need to buy, to the decorations that need to be hung will help you to feel prepared and in control of what’s going on around you – and that’s essential for tackling festive stress.
When you’re listing out “things to do”, try to prioritize whatever is on your list. Ask yourself which points are essential – which can be addressed later, and which are unnecessary. Crossing out those less-than-crucial tasks will give you gaps in your schedule that you can fill with things for you – from relaxing massages, to hot bubble baths listening to your favorite Christmas tunes.
- Take a Breather
There’s so much pressure to focus on other people during the holiday season, that it’s tough to make some time for yourself. Spending a few moments alone, without any distractions from annoying relatives could give you the strength you need to handle the most frustrating parts of the festive season. Some options for taking a time out might include:
- Scheduling a massage
- Reading a book
- Listening to music
- Talking a walk
For those moments when you don’t have anything scheduled, but you need a break, calculate an escape plan. For instance, tell your family you need to leave the room and phone a friend, or check on something with your emails.
- Ask for Help
If your aim this festive season, is to reduce holiday stress, then pacing yourself is a good place to start. Know your limits, and don’t be tempted to pile more on your plate than you can reasonably handle. Stress is a common problem for people who force themselves to take on too many responsibilities. The more you take on, the more likely you are to feel as though you can’t cope. If you feel as though things are getting to be too much, then stop and ask for help.
Christmas is a hectic time, and if you feel as though the success of your entire festive season has been left to rest on your shoulders, then you’re going to end up feeling seriously overwhelmed. Most of the time, your friends and family will be happy to take over some of the more common tasks on your behalf – so just ask!
- Learn to Say No
In the spirit of the season, you may feel pressured to say “Yes” to everyone and everything. However, that’s not good for you, or your sanity. Instead, as we mentioned above, you need to know what your limits are, and stick to them. Learning how to say no can be a great way to lower your stress levels – particularly when it feels as though pressures are coming at you from all angles. Remind yourself that it’s absolutely okay to turn down a party at work and have a night to yourself instead.
The key to coping over Christmas is to recognize that saying no doesn’t make you selfish – it makes you human. Your colleagues, friends, and even family members will understand if you’re unable to take part in every activity or project that they throw your way.
- Look After your Body
Finally, for many people, Christmas represents a time of excessive drinking and eating. This also means that exercise and self-care is often forgotten about in favor of over-indulgence. However, remembering to look after your body will not only protect you from the illnesses that can occur as a result of stress and fatigue, but it can also make you happier too. For instance, a regular massage can relax you, replenish your muscles, and leave you feeling rejuvenated enough to tackle the next festive task. At the same time, exercise burns off hormones like cortisol, and replaces them with mood-enhancing endorphins.
Rather than allowing the holiday season to become a time of unhealthy habits, it may be a good idea to focus on ways that you can continue to look after yourself, and your body. This might include things like:
- Cutting down on the amount of alcohol you drink
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Incorporating regular physical activity into each day
- Indulging in pamper and massage sessions
Don’t Dread the Holiday Season
As stressful as it can seem for families all across the world, the holiday season doesn’t have to be a time filled with dread and discomfort. You can take steps to prevent the emotional turmoil and stress that often descends over Christmas, and ensure that you do make the most of the season. Start by learning your holiday triggers, from family demands to financial stresses, and use the methods we’ve outlined above to combat the areas that are bringing you down.
A good thing to remember is that your holiday experience doesn’t have to be perfect. As families grow and change, rituals and traditions are bound to change. One of the best things that you can do to fight back against stress is to remember that it’s your Christmas too. Laugh, be merry, and remember that you don’t have to be perfect – the chances are that you couldn’t please everyone even if you tried! Even if something was to go drastically wrong – you can always turn the event into a funny Christmas story for years to come.