The holidays are frequently referred to as "the most wonderful time of the year" and there are certainly many things to love about the season. But, we'd be remiss to ignore the fact that the holidays can be incredibly stressful for many people. Whether it's financial concerns, stressful travel, a complicated family situation, the first year after a loved one's death, or approximately one million logistics to balance, many of us are struggling to get into the holiday spirit because anxiety and stress have taken over.
U.S. News reported in 2014 that nearly three quarters of Americans experience increased anxiety and depression during the season that's supposedly meant to be jolly. And this year is especially intense — many of us are still struggling to come to grips with the election results, and, personally, I'm not in the mood to celebrate much of anything at the moment. Plus, plenty of us are, to put it bluntly, not in the emotional state to handle that token relative who's absolutely thrilled about Trump's victory and won't stop talking about it.
But, regardless of what aspects of the holidays cause us stress, the fact is that they're rapidly approaching and we'll need to face the realities and stressors that come as part of the package. So try to get a handle on the season with these six tips to manage holiday-induced stress and anxiety.
1. Set Limits — And Then Stick To Them
Depending on our circumstances, we all face a unique set of stressors during the holiday season — so the limits we set for ourselves vary depending on the person. If you have a difficult family situation, know that it's OK to say "no" to certain events or set ground rules with your family members before attending. If you're not in great shape financially, don't feel the need to overspend just because you feel guilty — make your gifts thoughtful and personalized rather than expensive, or engage in some DIY projects if you happen to be good at them. (Trust me — some of my most cherished gifts probably cost about $10 and I love them because they represent something special about my relationship with the giver.)
In short, it's not selfish to put your mental health first — we all have to make sacrifices during the holiday season, but we don't need to be saints. If your family members agree to keep certain triggering topics off-limits, but then backtrack on their word and put you in an emotionally vulnerable state, it's OK to bow out early.
2. Make Your Physical Health A Priority
We're way better equipped to handle stress when we're physically healthy. Cold and flu season is in full swing — so, if you start to come down with something, be sure to get plenty of rest, drink fluids, and do all the other things your mom told you in order to kick your sickness as quickly as possible. Additionally, make sure you're eating healthy meals and getting enough sleep — in addition to making you more vulnerable to catch the latest bug, being overtired and not properly nourished make it way harder to handle any sort of stress. And if you can fit in any elements of your normal exercise routine, it could help — according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, "Studies show that [exercise] is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate."
3. Maintain Your Daily Routine
Between travel and a seemingly infinite number of additions to our "to-do lists," it's easy to fall out of our daily routines. Although some shake-ups are unavoidable, Katherine Muller, PsyD of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, emphasized in a piece on Health.com that we need to prioritize the healthiest, most enjoyable aspects of our usual routines, such as book club meetings and workouts. Don't let stressful holiday obligations take over your life and make sure you don't let your entire routine fall by the wayside.
4. Don't Rely On Alcohol To Cope With The Stress
We're typically surrounded by free alcohol during the holiday season — whether it's at a family gathering, a friend's holiday shindig, or the work party we really didn't want to attend, there's generally no shortage of spiked apple cider and eggnog. While many people are able to drink responsibly, it's also not surprising that the holidays are one of the dangerous times of year when it comes to alcohol-related accidents and deaths — because those open bars are tempting when you desperately need something to take the edge off.
Before each event, choose your drink limit and then stick to it. Hosts typically offer at least a few tasty nonalcoholic beverages, so you can switch to one of those options once you've hit your limit. We all know that alcohol is a quick-fix during a stressful moment or event, but it actually increases our anxiety and stress in the long-run — and the holidays involve multiple obligations, so it's best to avoid any behaviors that will compromise our mental health.
5. Reach Out For Support
Make sure you have a support system in place — for example, if you have a particularly stressful holiday obligation, talk with your best friend (or anyone else in your life who is supportive and understanding) in advance so they can be on the lookout and take a call from you if things get really rough. If you know that you have a tough day in store, make a plan with friends for later in the evening so you can decompress. And, of course, these arrangement should be mutual — make sure your loved ones know that you are also available to lend support when they're feeling the effects of holiday stress.
6. Learn From The Past
History has a nasty habit of repeating itself — so make some time to reflect on what's made past holidays particularly stressful. We can avoid certain traps, such as starting conversations with family members that will inevitably lead to an argument or attending an annual party that always seems to end with us making decisions that are, uh, questionable. In short, make your best effort to not repeat actions and conversations that have exacerbated your stress and anxiety during past holiday seasons.
Although there's no escaping holiday stress, we can make the season a little easier on ourselves by prioritizing our health, setting boundaries, and remembering that it's more than OK to seek out support when we need it.