• Dr. Eric Carlsen

10 Ways to Overcome Holiday Stress


The holidays are here and with them comes stress. I think this year, more than ever, we want our holidays to be perfect. We feel we need to make up for past holidays missed due to Covid. I came across this great article by Aubrey Freitas, Registered Behavioral Therapist, that details 10 ways to help overcome holiday stress - definitely worth reading and incorporating some of her ideas into the holidays. We’ll be sharing them throughout the month in our special blog series on “10 Ways to Overcome Holiday Stress”.


Although the holidays are meant to be a joyful time, they can also bring about a series of different challenges. Many people juggle social gatherings, budgets, and work deadlines during the season. Also, for many, the holidays bring about some complex emotions. Holidays may bring about memories of loved ones who have been lost. All of these elements can come together to create a lot of stress during the holiday season.

Stress can lead to numerous negative health consequences. For example, stress has been linked to the development of anxiety and depression, difficulty sleeping, and even digestive disorders. If you're experiencing stress this season, it can put a serious damper on your holiday cheer. Learn how to avoid holiday stress, and how to cope with whatever challenges arise.

Do you experience stress during the holiday season? If so, you're not alone. Whether you're facing a new holiday curveball or a stressor that seems to come around every year, there are things you can do to cope with whatever comes your way.

1. Create a Plan for the Season

Psychotherapist Jude Bijou, M.A., MFT, author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life, points out that a major source of holiday stress is a lack of planning in advance. She advises people to create a plan for the holidays before they get in full swing. This will help reduce overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety about topics such as budgets and social calendars.


Having a plan set in place may also help people feel less rushed during the holidays and can even prevent them from overspending. Bijou advises that people follow these steps to create their holiday plan:


Make a list of everything that needs to be accomplished. This can include things like gifts to purchase, social parties to host or attend, and school or work events. It can also include things like designated time with friends and family, holiday cards to send, and even potential volunteer opportunities you want to participate in with your family.

Get a calendar. Then, mark off social events and designate times in advance for gatherings you want to attend. You can also use this time to prioritize any activities that you decide you really need to accomplish this holiday season. Remember to leave some availability to spend quality time with loved ones, or to even schedule in days for you and your family to just rest and relax in case you want to recharge. Set a budget in advance. This can include things like how much you want to spend on food for hosting parties, gifts for loved ones, or donations that you make to charity. You can also keep in mind whether you decorate with lights during the holiday season to put a little extra aside for your electricity bills. Be prepared for things to change and accept them with grace. You can create the most intricate and thought-out plan possible this holiday season. However, sometimes life has a way of shaking things up when you least expect it. If you run into an unexpected problem, such as being invited to a social gathering last minute or being asked to bring a dessert to your child's holiday recital, it's okay. Just do your best to adjust to the change that has occurred and try to stick with the rest of your plan as closely as possible.


2. Don't Take on Too Much

"Don't over-schedule commitments," advises Bijou. You don't have to accept every invitation that comes your way this holiday season. You're allowed to say 'no' to parties and gatherings if they are stretching your time too thin, or if you just want to take a break.


It may seem difficult but remind yourself that you don't have to keep up with what other people are doing. Your advance-planning calendar won't help you beat the stress of the season if it is so packed with activities and obligations that you don't have any time for yourself. People who truly care about you will understand when you say no to an invitation.


Also, it's okay to take shortcuts. For example, if baking relaxes you, then make homemade cupcakes for your child's holiday party. However, if baking is a source of stress, just buy some from the store. Doing so can reduce the seasonal stress in your life. The kids will enjoy the cupcakes no matter where they came from. And, having a parent who isn't stressed and overwhelmed is more important than homemade sweets.


3. Strategize to Maintain a Healthy Diet

Many people stress about following a healthy eating plan during the holiday season. "Strategize some of the dietary challenges you may encounter," suggests Susan Tucker, nutrition counselor and founder of Green Beat Life, LLC. Take some time before the holiday season to think about your healthy eating goals. She also notes that many people face some of the same challenges each year, which may help people reflect on their goals.


To avoid diet pitfalls, Tucker recommends that people consider what their holiday schedules will look like during the season. For example, consider where you will be eating, such as at a holiday party, family dinner, or at an airport if you have travel plans. Write down the three top dietary challenges you experience during these scenarios.


Then, think of strategies you can use to create healthier ways to navigate these situations. Tucker notes that these strategies don't have to be complicated. "This may mean eating a healthy snack before you go out, or packing a nutritious meal for traveling."


She also suggests:

Set up your kitchen to create nutritious support for your holiday eating habits. Do you look forward to eating a lot of sweets at all your holiday gatherings? Or do you have a bit of a sweet tooth in general? One way to set yourself up for success is to clear your kitchen of all sweets. Or, if this isn't possible, at least remove them from the countertops and put them in the pantry.

Increase your intake of fiber and vitamins C and B. Fiber aids in digestion supports healthier cholesterol levels and can help remove toxins from your system, which may be particularly important during the holiday when excess sugar consumption may be elevated due to eating more sweets or drinking alcohol more frequently at social gatherings. Vitamin C helps support a strong immune system and acts as an antioxidant that can protect the body from free radicals that can cause damage to our cells. Vitamin B helps support the nervous system and keeps the body's blood healthy.

Choose calming foods in your diet during this high-energy time. Herbal teas like chamomile are often thought to be soothing to the nervous system, while ginger tea has been used to calm the digestive system.


Follow our blog this month for more insights to help plan a less stressful holiday season.


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