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6 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

Stress in America

Do your shoulders instantly tense up with the thought of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season? Does your heart skip a beat when you think about spending the entire day with your extended family during the most wonderful time of the year? Does the thought of a revolving balance on your credit card from overspending keep you up at night?

Stress in the United States
In 2015, 24 percent of Americans surveyed by the American Psychological Association reported extreme levels of stress.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone. Money and family responsibilities are some of the top sources of stress in America.

Before the stress of the holidays sneaks up on you, read on to learn how to enjoy your most stress-free holiday season yet.

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Symptoms

The Most Common Symptoms of Holiday-Related Stress

Stress can wreak havoc on the body in many different ways. Symptoms of stress can include the following:

  • anxiety
  • sadness
  • headaches
  • body aches
  • inability to sleep
  • irritability

Want to learn more about stress? The effects of stress on the body »

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Risk Factors

Who Is Affected by Holiday Related Stress?

Holiday stress can affect anyone, even children. There are a lot of expectations around the holidays. Many people associate the holidays with social gatherings, rituals, and happy memories. These expectations can lead to stress.

It can quickly become overwhelming to make every meal award-worthy and every wrapped gift look perfect. Finding the time to attend every party, or feeling like you haven’t been invited to enough parties can cause stress. When you add the financial burden, travel, and visiting family members, stress can start to pile up. There’s also a desire to cram in every tradition and event to make sure each day is memorable.

Finally, the holidays can also be a difficult time of the year for people who have lost friends and family members. The memory of their loss can add to other sources of stress and hurt even more.

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Tips

Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

There are many simple ways to deal with holiday stress, but first you need to understand your stress triggers. Do certain situations cause you to feel stressed? When you feel stressed, pause and think about what’s causing it. The activity you’re doing at the time may not be the cause of your stress. Once you understand what triggers your stress, use these six simple tips to de-stress.

1. Plan Ahead

Finding time for all of your holiday activities can be tricky. On top of your holiday commitments, you may also have to deal with increased traffic, especially around malls. Or you may feel extra pressure to get ahead of work so that you can take time off to travel.

Creating an action plan can help to relieve stress. Write down all of the things you need to do so that you can prioritize the things that are most important. You will also be less likely to forget something if you have a list.

2. Put Yourself First

With such a huge focus during the holidays on giving, it can be easy to forget to give back to yourself. Taking care of yourself will improve your mood and make it easier for you to take care of others.

Set aside some time to do things you enjoy. Find time to exercise, plan a dinner out, or just get a few minutes of fresh air. And don’t forget the importance of a regular good night’s sleep.

Read more: Exercise as stress relief »

3. Keep Your Finances in Check

If you’re worried about your spending and how it will affect you after the holidays are over, be realistic about what you can afford to spend. The sentiment behind a gift is more important than the cost.

Create a budget and stick to it. Spend only what you can afford, and if you don’t have the ability to spend anything, bake a treat or offer your talents and time to your friends and loved ones.

4. Honor Loved Ones You Have Lost

It may be difficult to celebrate the holiday season if you’ve lost someone dear to you or distance makes it difficult to spend time together.

Spend this holiday season reflecting on special memories and how you will honor the person you lost by doing something meaningful in their honor. If you’re unable to spend time with loved ones, volunteer your time to a local organization where your smiling face could change someone’s day. Their smile could most certainly warm your heart.

5. Indulge in Moderation

Indulge in foods that you may only have once a year, but don’t forget the importance of healthy eating as well. A glass of eggnog or five sugar cookies for breakfast isn’t going to completely derail your eating plan. But it’s not a realistic way to eat every day during the holidays. Not only will it leave you feeling ill, but also the pounds will quickly sneak up on you. Everything in moderation is key this time of year.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

It’s okay to say “no,” and the more you say it, the easier it will get. Say “yes” to the events and things that you know will bring you joy. Say “no” to obligations that you know will cause you heartache and disappointment. If working a few extra hours of overtime will make you happy so you can treat your mom to her first new television in twenty years, do it. But if your neighbor that you’re not too fond of invites you to a holiday party, feel free to decline. You’ll be happy that you did.

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Seeing a Doctor

Should You See a Doctor?

If you’ve tried the tips above and your mood hasn’t improved, speak to your doctor. Just sharing your feelings with your doctor may help you feel better. If not, your doctor can discuss prescription medications or other treatment plans that might be able to help.

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Takeaway

The Takeaway

When it comes to stress, it’s important to listen to what your body and mind are telling you. If a situation is too stressful, ask yourself why it’s stressful and what you can do to better manage your stress. Not only will this help you to deal with holiday stress, but it can also help you better manage stress throughout the year. 

  • Could my holiday stress be caused by major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern?
  • Major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern can be difficult to differentiate from holiday stress. The major difference is the duration and severity of your symptoms. Major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern must meet all of the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder, including symptoms and duration of symptoms. The criteria for this condition are significantly different than feeling “down in the dumps” for a day or two, or having anxiety about holiday events. If you suspect that you’re having a bout of major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern, consult your doctor immediately.

    - Timothy J. Legg, PMHNP-BC, GNP-BC, CARN-AP, MCHES
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