Reducing Holiday Stress

Reducing Holiday Stress

By Gary W. Lee 

When we think of the holidays, our minds instinctively drift toward idealistic thoughts of festive decorations, fun-filled family gatherings, and joyful celebrations. But in reality, the holidays often mean dread, anxiety, and sadness to many. More than likely, we feel an increase in responsibilities, an over-abundance of activities, and a general feeling of being out of control. In many cases, this is because we fill our holiday schedule with an overwhelming number of activities that really aren’t necessary. So here are some ideas on how to reduce holiday stress.

Plan ahead: Sounds simple doesn’t it? But experts report that one of the top reasons for holiday stress is the lack of proper planning. In addition to poor planning, there is also the problem of procrastination, which not only leads to last minute, urgent preparation, but can also be expensive. When people don’t have a plan, and/or when they wait until the last minute, they not only lose efficiency, but tend to act more impulsively. This leads to fewer choices, frantic decision making, and a tendency to spend more money. Overspending not only creates a problem during the holiday season, but can also be the source for additional stress in the following months because of strained budgets.

Set reasonable expectations: Don’t let Hollywood or Madison Avenue set the tone for what you think your holiday season should look like. We often enter into the holidays with unreasonable expectations, fueled by idealistic perfectionism. Many people get into trouble when they think this year’s holiday season has to be better than all their previous holidays, or at least equal to what the neighbors, friends, and other family members are currently experiencing. Set a holiday tone that suites your family culture by introducing traditions that turn into life-long memories. The holidays can be meaningful without being perfect. 

Take care of yourself: Frantic shopping, late night wrapping, fast food diets, increased alcohol consumption, and an over-abundance of holiday treats and sweets can quickly create an unhealthy condition, contributing to both physical and emotional stress on your body. Fatigue, improper diet, and lack of exercise can weaken your immune system, which can ultimately lead to short term illness and long term health problems. Finding balance is the key. Don’t let all your focus be on everyone else’s needs. Take the time and make the effort to care for yourself as well.

Acknowledge your feelings: Lost loved ones, estranged relationships, dysfunctional families, and unhappy memories can all come crashing in on us during the holidays. If faced with strained family relationships, try to establish agreement with others to set difficult issues aside so the holidays can be enjoyed. Plan on dealing with conflict at other times of the year so they don’t fester and grow out of control. Additionally, be tolerant and understanding of others who may be upset due to loss, loneliness, or distress.

Reach out: For many of us, the holidays evoke feelings of sadness, depression, loneliness, and isolation. In such cases, seek out the company of others. Engage in the community through religious or social events, volunteer, or visit with friends and family. If sadness or depression is pervasive throughout most of your days, seek medical attention or counseling as needed

Learn to say no: The holidays are a time when it is easy to become overcommitted. The schedule will already be strained with special programs, activities, and parties. Additional demands may also arise from the workplace, and can be especially troubling when conflicting with other holiday plans. The key here is to prioritize what is truly important, especially with issues over which you have some level of control.

The holiday season can be not only enjoyable, but memorable, if managed properly. Plan ahead, set realistic goals and expectations, and make the time with friends and family truly meaningful.

Gary Lee is a retired Cincinnati Police Department Captain. He is a licensed professional counselor, specializing in individual and couples counseling, addiction recovery, and trauma therapy. He is part of the Counseling Alliance practice, located at 5420 North Bend Road, in Cincinnati, Ohio. 513-376-9757.

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