You know the drill – every year, you imagine that the Christmas season will be a swirl of joyful holiday parties, decorating the tree, cosy crafting, stringing stockings, surprising loved ones with the perfect gifts, cooking flawless holiday meals, indulging in family vacations, and generally spending blissed-out time against a magical backdrop. But every year, you remember that reality rarely matches up perfectly with that dreamy expectation.
For all the fun and festivity, plenty of challenges abound at this time of year, so you’re going to need to be armed with some Christmas stress tips to get you through it all.
Schedule recreation or relaxation
If you’re the type who relentlessly ploughs through a to-do list, make sure you schedule some time for your own self care. Put it near the top of your list so you’ll really do it. Maybe that’s a line item for 30 minutes of exercise, a phone call to a loved one, or a restorative bubble bath.
Take a news break
If you’re feeling hopeless or overwhelmed by the bleak news stories of the day, allow yourself to take a break from consuming them. Change the channel to more soothing fare. Listen to music instead of news. If you tend to doom scroll at night, try adjusting your phone’s settings to block certain sites past a bedtime hour.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, embrace breaks
“Many of us feel guilty when we need to take a break, because we live in a society that constantly tells us that we are only valuable if we work all the time,” Dr. Leaf says.
And she’s not just referring to professional work, but to the culture that values busyness of any type above all else. Actively avoid buying into this damaging mindset – especially during the chaotic holiday season.
Don’t feel like you can take an afternoon – or even an hour – off from tasks? Just try closing your eyes for a moment to reset. Dr. Leaf calls these “thinker moments”, a chance to just let your mind wander and daydream for a few moments throughout the day. These moments give the brain a break and allow it to reboot and heal.
Prepare a COVID-19 safety plan in advance
Various family members and loved ones will each have a different approach to COVID-19 safety protocols, such as masking or staying outdoors during holiday celebrations. By making a plan in advance, you can create an environment that maximises comfort and minimises awkwardness for all parties.
“It’s best to take as many precautions as possible when planning family and friend gatherings this holiday season,” says Dr. Caroline Leaf, mental health expert and host of the Cleaning Up The Mental Mess podcast.
“As different people face different risks and have different risk tolerances I would recommend discussing your holiday plans with your loved ones as soon as possible to avoid extra tension over the holidays season.”
When holiday tension becomes too much, remember you don’t have to do it all or see everyone or do all the things. If you’re not excited about an event, or if social plans drain rather than nourish you, cut these extraneous obligations loose.
“We need to balance our time with healthy people and healthy, happy conversations, while enforcing our own personal boundaries,” Dr. Leaf says.
Minimise screen time in favour of human connection
Dr. Leaf notes that research shows the happiest people are those who connect with others and build meaningful relationships. The brain is made for human connection; we feel the most fulfilled and at peace when we are valued members of a group.
So as much as possible, pull your face out from behind that screen and forge real connections with loved ones – the exercise might be more of a powerful mental health boon than you even realize it can be.
Seek a fresh perspective
Make a change. Take one task that drives you crazy during the holidays and tackle it in a new way. A fresh approach just might make a difference. For example, if you dread having to send out holiday cards, enlist your partner or children and split the list.
Be satisfied with “good enough”
Don’t always go for bigger and better. Striving for perfectionism can lead to feelings of emptiness and frustration. Sometimes you have to let go and accept that “good enough” is just fine. There’s no need to panic if you don’t manage to put up your Christmas lights on your front lawn.
Drop expensive, high-stress rituals
If you’re dragging your kids off to see The Nutcracker – it’s a tradition! – but they’re whining every step of the way, make a switch. True, families thrive on traditions, but it’s less about the event itself, which your kids may have outgrown, and more about time together.
If your kids are complaining, drop expensive, high-stress rituals in favour of something simple and universally appealing, like a Christmas Eve chocolate-chip pancake feast.
Stock up on gift wrapping supplies
Buy extras of tape, gift tags, and more wrapping paper than you think you’ll need. Nothing is more frustrating than running out of supplies with the job half done, and you can always save the leftovers for next year.
Focus on what’s most important
That massive pile of holiday cards needs to get mailed ASAP, but just the thought of it gives you a writer’s cramp?
“Refocus on what’s most important to you,” says life coach Linda Hedberg. “If you’re overwhelmed with dozens of cards to send out, ask yourself – which are the 10 most important ones?”
Send those and put the rest on the back burner.
Or just send an e-card to everyone on your list. It saves money, which you might consider donating to a charity on behalf of your recipients and letting them know about it in the e-card message.
As you take part in decorating the tree or preparing the Christmas cookies with your kids, take a deep breath and savour the moment. Give yourself permission to forget about all those tasks still left on your to-do list.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help
In fact, guests prefer to take on some small tasks, instead of standing around while you attempt to do everything yourself. Ask an older relative if he’d mind greeting guests at the door. Recruit teens to offer drinks. Kids may direct guests to the buffet table or offer hors d’oeuvres. Not only does it help you, it empowers the whole crew.
Stick with the tried-and-true
A special gathering is not the time to experiment with a new recipe. Just do what you know how to do and can do well. Keep the table setting simple, adding a seasonal touch with a single Christmas centrepiece and festive napkins. Focus on the fellowship of the people you’re gathering with, and don’t stress out on the preparations and menu.
Just say “no” sometimes
Can’t say no? Then keep your gatherings small and intimate. Get together with a few of your closest friends or relatives for the holidays. Choose to throw the big blowout parties at another time of the year, when you and your guests will have fewer commitments competing for your precious time.
Prep for holiday dinner guests
Every time you make a meal for your household in the weeks before Christmas, double the recipe and freeze half. When guests visit, you can serve a home-cooked meal in minutes.
Use the 30-minute rule
Sure, you want your home to look great for guests, but don’t fall prey to holiday house fever. “That’s when you try to do too much in too little time,” explains Cynthia Ewer, editor of Organized Christmas. “Cross off anything on your household prep list that will take more than a half-hour to do. The goal is to spiff up the house a little, not turn it into a showroom.”
Enjoy treats the right way
Too much added sugar can cause blood sugar highs and lows, leaving you feeling more anxious and less able to handle stress.
But that doesn’t mean seasonal sweets are completely off-limits, says Lauri Wright, PhD, RDN, assistant professor, department of nutrition and dietetics, University of North Florida, Tallahassee. Small changes can significantly reduce your overall sugar intake. Try eating just one cookie or piece of candy instead of a handful. Also, when cooking, make no-sugar-added choices like roasted sweet potatoes rather than candied yams (you’ll save 14 grams of sugar per serving).
Recite some affirmations
If taking a moment out of your hectic holiday schedule to recite a positive affirmation sounds like a bunch of hooey, you might be overthinking it – and underestimating the power of the quick, easy, and free ritual. The power of positivity actually alters your brain’s response, which reduces stress and promotes happiness.
Try repeating something simple like, “I am loved,” “I am in control,” or, “I deserve to have a joyful and abundant holiday season.”
Let it all out
Bottling up your stress for too long can lead to health issues such as back pain (from excessive muscle tension) and a weakened immune system, says Chris Gilbert, MD, PhD, a general, integrative and holistic medicine practitioner in Los Angeles.
So it’s crucial to find a release that works for you.
One suggestion: Go to a private spot, such as your car, and scream for about 5 seconds. Yes, seriously. It’s like letting out steam from a teakettle. If screaming isn’t for you, try a few minutes of dancing, singing (put on some holiday tunes!) or deep breathing.