As the holidays draw closer, it’s normal to feel a mixed bag of emotions. For some people, it’s their favorite time of year, albeit an overwhelming one. For those dealing with strained family ties, the loss of a loved one, or unpleasant memories, the holidays can be emotionally draining. Feeling sad or anxious during the holidays isn’t uncommon, but there are ways you can minimize the stress you shoulder. We spoke to experts on the best ways to deal with the upcoming holiday season.
Low moods and excessive worrying
A large number of people suffer from seasonal bouts of sadness, and social obligations during the holiday season don’t make it easier to deal with. Here are some tips that can help.
The gratitude movement may sound trite or cliched, but its popularity is owed in large part to the fact that it really works. Renata Trebing, founder of Nourish With Renata says, “Take 5 mins to write on a piece of paper, a journal, or even one of the many gratitude apps, a few things that you are grateful for.” With all that there is to do during the season, “this reflection can put everything into perspective and help you focus on what matters most.”
Breath breaks are key to managing stress, particularly in moments when you’re overwhelmed. Adds Renata, “Separate yourself from the stressful environment (if possible) and take 1 full minute to take long, deep breaths. When we are stressed out, we take shallow breaths, which lessens the amount of oxygen our body intakes and is able to circulate around our body.” Actively taking deep, prolonged breaths can help you slow things down in an SOS situation.
Try some CBD
Mike Robinson, founder of the Global Cannabinoid Research Center says that CBD can help with low moods and excessive stress during the holidays, a lifesaver for those with dealing with seasonal mood swings, loneliness or loss. CBD users report feeling calmer, more focused and balanced with regular use. These small changes can make all the difference for chronic worriers, especially during this time of year.
Don’t keep score
Donna Cameron, author of A Year of Living Kindly: Choices That Will Change Your Life and the World Around You, had this to say: “Don't track whether the people you send holiday cards send one to you. Don't fret if you give someone a gift and they don't give one in return, or give you one of lesser value. Stop paying attention to whose turn it is to call, host dinner, or pick up the tab for coffee.” It may sound like a no-brainer, but one of the best ways to limit your disappointments is to have realistic expectations. “Recognize that in a friendship, our efforts may not always be equal, but in the long-run, it all balances out. We never know what's going on in other people's lives that may make it difficult for them to reciprocate.” Cameron also believes that it is liberating to give without keeping tallies, and with no expectation of return. “To give for the joy of giving - it liberates the mind from grudges and resentments, and creates more space to recognize and enjoy our friends and our blessings.”
Too much to do
For those that love hosting parties, or have family gatherings to organize along with demanding jobs, a lot of things can slip through the cracks – leading to guilt, stress and anger. Here’s how to avoid the spiral.
Enforce some me-time
Renata Trebing suggests waking up an hour earlier than everyone else in the house, but not for work – just spend an hour on yourself. “When you do this, you are able to fill up your own cup by spending time on yourself doing the things that you want to do e.g. reading, journaling, meditation, working out etc. The choice is yours!” Having some time in the day to do what you want to do instead of what you have to do can make a world of a difference.
Manage your finances
Losing track of finances during the holidays is all too easy, considering the various expenditures during a very short period of time. However, the looming stress of dealing with post-holiday finances can put a dampener on your holiday celebrations, and is easily avoidable. Lucy Harris, founder of Hello Baby Bump says, “Keep track of where you are spending money, as well as how much.” If it helps, make a schedule beforehand of anything that might require money. Always overestimate how much you might spend on each activity, and once you have a complete figure, take some time to figure out which expenses are necessary and which are negotiable. “When you have a schedule you can have a rough idea of what you can and can't afford to spend on gifts, food, travel etc.”
Just because you love hosting doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful! Anne Clark of My Kitchen Serenity has some great tips on getting organized in order to be a stress-free hostess. She suggests creating an action list and preplanning around the following pointers:
Adds Clark, “Creating a simple list that I can post on the refrigerator can help me and others in the family know who is in charge of what and what activities are coming up.” She also stresses on the importance of being easy on yourself. “Surprises are going to come up (an extra guest, a flat tire, overcooked meals), but you can't let that slow you down. Just remember that the mishap this year is the funny story next year.”
Even those of us that aren’t hosting guests over the holidays can find to-do lists getting overwhelming over the holidays. We spoke to Dr. Holly Phillips, Medical Expert for RxSaver, who suggests creating a ‘to-don’t’ list. Her advice is to review your to-do list and ask yourself if each task:
1. Has to be done by you,
2. Has to be done at all, or
3. Could be done in a simpler way.
Then cross things off accordingly and move over to your to-don't list.
Exercise is not only a useful stress management tool, but can also save you from post-holiday guilt. Dr. Phillips adds, “The average American gains between 1 and 5 pounds during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.” Of course, that alone is no reason to fret – just as long as you’re not hard on yourself for it in the New Year. What’s more important, though, is what you stand to gain from staying fit. “Just 30 minutes of exercise can help to stave off stress for 12 hours afterwards.”
Uncomfortable family scenarios
For many, the holidays are the one time of the year that they get to see their families. This should ideally be a joyous occasion, but as countless holiday movies have illustrated, sometimes families reuniting can be more triggering than happy. Here’s how you can cope.
Shirley Baldwin, life coach and host of Get What You Want podcast, says that retaining your integrity can be key. “Sounds simple, but not so easy when mouths open and words start coming out.” Family members can sometimes be callous with comments, and that’s when it is important to stand powerfully in your place. “No one knows you better than you.”
Have powerful answers
Baldwin illustrates how to navigate awkward, probing questions with confident, powerful answers (or even another question in response!).
For example, if a relative asks you a question such as, “Why are you still single?” A powerful question may be, “How would you see me differently if I weren't single?” A powerful answer may be, “It doesn't align with me to be in a relationship right now.”
The same thing with “Why haven't you two had a baby?” Powerful question, “How would you see us differently if we had a baby?” Or “What would us having a baby change for you?” Powerful answer, “It doesn't align for us to have a baby at this time.”
Defuse using validation
When you’d rather just avoid the stress of confrontation, Baldwin suggests validating what they feel whether it's right or wrong in your eyes. “Validation can defuse a lot of arguments.” How does this work? You can say things like, “I'm sorry you feel that way,” or “That must be really hard.” Adds Baldwin, “You don't have to agree or defend, just validate. A lot of times, others just want to be heard.”
Be a creator, not a reactor.
Baldwin highlights the difference between creators and reactors, saying that “If you are a reactor, you will meet others where they are at, which could only heighten the situation. If you are a creator, you can create whatever you want with the situation.” Sometimes, taking the situation in your own hands can be a powerful tool. “Slow down, think about what you want to create with the other person. Are your words portraying that?”
Dr. Sherrie Campbell, author of But It's Your Family... Cutting Ties with Toxic Family Members & Loving Yourself in the Aftermath, “Difficult relatives thrive on creating conflict, gossip, drama, and drawing negative attention, so use brevity, avoidance or a statement of a direct boundary. Go into each holiday gatherings with set boundaries and don't let anyone push your buttons!”
No matter what holiday you’re celebrating, it’s important to keep in mind that at the end of the day, it is supposed to be a celebration. If it feels more like an obligation than celebration, it might be time to step outside, get some me time, and a take few drops of CBD to center yourself. Have any tips for dealing with the holidays? Let us know!