We are flooded with emotions at the holidays. We can get caught up in the moment. We can get stressed out. When we are overwhelmed with stress, we look toward temporary solutions to provide relief.  And relief can take on many forms like over-eating, drinking, resistance to exercise, and mindless scrolling through social media. As such, a keystone habit to focus on at this time of year is stress management. All behavior change starts with effective stress management. We talked last week about using positive psychology to help manage stress, but let’s take a look at some holiday-specific stress management tips.

Holiday Stress Management Tips

  1. Maintain high velocity, not high speed. Speed is just how fast you move. Velocity is how fast you’re going in a specific direction. With the added responsibilities around the holidays, plan your movements out, so you move with purpose. Make a list of everything you need to do. Get it out of your head and on to paper. Schedule tasks on your calendar so you have time dedicated time set aside for the things you need to do rather than just doing them when you have bits of time available. Recommended reading: Getting Things Done by David Allen.
  2. Reject the idea of a perfect gift. Reject the idea that the only way to do the holidays right is to spend a certain amount of money. You may already be experiencing financial stress, and the holidays add more pressure around delivering for your family by getting the perfect gift, throwing the perfect party, being the perfect family. These ideals do not exist. Reject the idea that you have to do the holidays “right” in financial terms. Also, know that you are not alone. A Healthline survey of 2000 people found that 62% of people were either “somewhat” or “very” stressed around the holidays. We compare ourselves to an ideal that doesn’t exist and stress ourselves out trying to reach this unattainable goal.
  3. Fight against the need for social proof. If we think everyone else is spoiling their loved ones with over-the-top presents around the holidays, we are more likely to over-spend to keep up. If we think it’s the norm, we’re more likely to engage in the behavior. In reality, it’s not the norm, but we are driven by social proof to think it is.
  4. Get strategic and be prepared for festivities. How are you going to approach holiday festivities? If you’re concerned about maintaining a specific routine – diet, exercise, alcohol consumption – be aware of your environment and plan accordingly. Being out of your routine means increased stress and bad decision making. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself during the holidays; have a good time, but don’t use a little enjoyment as an excuse to binge. If you’re trying to cut your alcohol consumption or maintain sobriety, please be aware that the period from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day (December 25-January 1) accounts for some of the highest incidents of binge drinking and related public health problems, according to Kaiser Permanente. If you’re maintaining your sobriety, plan accordingly to manage or avoid situations that threaten your recovery.
  5. Manage family stress and don’t buy in to the social ideal. You will likely have to deal with your family at the holidays, and it’s very unlikely to be all love and peace. Think about the best way to handle conversations you’d rather avoid with your family. Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote that “between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response likes our growth and our freedom.” Plan your response and mange yourself so you’re prepared if a sensitive topic comes up.
  6. Recognize and challenge unhelpful thinking styles. When you routinely challenge your brain to think positively, you will rewire the way you think and notice more positive in your life. (Learn more about using positive psychology to reframe negative thinking.)

Grief, Loss, and Loneliness During the Holidays

If you’re grieving a loved one this holiday season, you may think you need to be happy for everyone else. However, for someone grieving, the only day that is tougher than the holidays is the anniversary of the loss. Be prepared for it, and give yourself a break.

If you’ve experienced loss or you’re in the middle of a worrisome or tough situation, be prepared and understand that your goal may not be to have a happy holiday like you see in the movies. The goal is to get through it and to give yourself a break, treat yourself with grace, and practice good self-care.

Suggested Reading: The Empty Chair by Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge and Robert C. De Vries.

For more on stress management, check out our Stress Management and Burnout resource page.