From crowded shopping malls to awkward office parties, 'tis the season for stress.
No holiday event will ever go perfectly smoothly, but though the upcoming holidays have their stressors, they can also be a source of joy and reflection. Here’s how to regain your focus so you can enjoy yourself during this most celebratory of seasons and into the new year.
1. Anticipate Stress
Ready or not, stress is likely to pop up at some point during the season. But knowing when a wave is about to hit can prepare you for the worst.
“The holidays naturally ramp up emotions and put together families that have patterns of behavior that are repeated year after year—sometimes sort of like a bad dance,” says Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, chair of the Workplace Stress Board at the American Institute of Stress in Fort Worth, TX.
Identify your own stress triggers, be they party planning or organizing carpools, and be mindful of the stressors other people are facing. You won’t feel like you’re tackling the holidays alone, and everyone will get along better.
2. Be in the Moment
Despite the craziness, there’s still plenty of joy to be had during the holiday season, and appreciating the good around you can lift your spirits all year long.
Mindfulness strategies are key, says Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and commentator. She recommends taking time each day to list what you are currently grateful for.
“Sit and notice what you see, smell, feel, and hear about the holiday and what you appreciate,” she says.
3. Mind Your Vices
If you’re tempted to turn to vices like smoking and drinking, keep in mind that these habits can make you feel worse in the long run. And if you do choose to have a few drinks at parties, set reasonable limits beforehand.
There’s strength in numbers, so reach out to reliable companions you can lean on when times get tough. “Talk with trusted friends about your stress to share and know you’re not alone,” Saltz says. “Ask a friend to be a buddy that helps neither of you revert to unhealthy habits.”
And if you arm yourself with the tools for a healthy holiday, you'll feel more confident going into stressful situations.
“The more people feel like they are in control by using other methods and can be prepared, they less they will feel the need to escape,” says Dr. Karen Sherman, a psychologist and relationship expert.
4. Remember to Breathe
It might sound silly, but in the midst of a holiday crisis, it’s possible to forget to breathe. Proper breathing techniques have the power to center you and bring you back into the moment.
“Breathwork is a wonderful way to create the pause between stimulus and response so you can choose a response instead of an automatic reaction,” Ackrill says.
If you feel a spark of panic coming on, breathe slowly and deeply, and count backwards if you find it helpful. If you have a spare moment, add some simple yoga poses or stretching to get the most out of your breathing exercises.
5. Set Realistic Expectations
Many holidays—especially Christmas—are idealized in the media. But remember that nobody is really experiencing a perfect holiday and that there are always ups and downs. Do what you can by planning ahead for travel, cooking, and other time-sensitive events, but don't get down on yourself if things don't go exactly as planned.
“It is a heavy stress to confront the imperfection of the Christmas fantasy, and a leading cause of holiday depression,” says relationship psychotherapist Dr. Cheryl Pappas. “The Christmas picture features a large, loving family and close friends with whom we celebrate warmth and holiday cheer. But life and real relationships are complicated and imperfect.”
Recognizing that imperfection is normal is sure to take some of the pressure off.