‘Twas the night before Christmas…and your stress level was starry-sky-high. What is it about the holidays that gets your stomach in knots? Whether it’s family dynamics or an epic “things to do” list, learn how to overcome your anxieties and make the holidays less jittery and more jolly. Here, we list our top five holiday stress triggers and offer strategies to manage them:
Stress: Family Feuds
Strategy: Turn the Other Cheek (For Now)
Why does your sister get to keep all the family photos? Why did your father put aside money for your brother’s college education and not yours? These, and other burning questions, are perfectly valid, but there is a time for bringing them up—and sitting around the dinner table waiting for Abuelo to finish carving the turkey is not that time. So why does it happen anyway? “Negative family dynamics often play out during the holidays,” says Dr. Laura Reigada, a Clinical Psychologist and Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. Keep that in mind—and know the triggers that lead to family throwdowns. Then turn the other cheek, and you may find that family members follow your lead: “Once you begin to respond differently you may find that they do too,” says Dr. Reigada.
Strategy: Take Control
For some of us, the anxieties of the season are less about family and more about feasting. What with various get-togethers, office parties, and one calorie-laden dinner after the next, the urge to overindulge can be irresistible. “People eat for different reasons including stress, out of habit, as a way to connect socially, stimulate senses, etc.,” says Reigada. “A good mindset is to recognize that you have some control over your eating behaviors.” There are many ways to tackle the temptations. For one, cut down on the alcoholic beverages that are so common at holiday shindigs: “Those calories add up,” she says. “And alcohol reduces inhibitions.” Other ideas for a healthier holiday? “Using smaller plates, selecting smaller portions, and eating a healthy breakfast to curb your appetite,” advises Dr. Reigada. Whatever your approach, just remember that you have the power to make healthy choices—even during the holidays.
Read Related: This Holiday Season Stay Sane by Helping Others
Strategy: Budget & Plan Ahead
Nothing throws your bank account into freefall like the holidays. Putting off gift-buying until the last minute may seem like a great way to stall on the stress and take advantage of those last-minute sales, but you’re not doing your credit card balance or your emotional well-being any favors. There are plenty of great deals to be had—and a better selection, too—well in advance of the holidays, and paying for expedited shipping will probably eradicate any money you might have saved on a last-minute sale. Then there’s the sweat-inducing worry of waiting for everything to arrive in time and getting it all wrapped and ready. Take the time now to pick out the right gifts, focus on great bargains, and come up with sensible money-saving solutions (maybe it’s an under $10 gift exchange, or an agreement with family members to only buy presents for the kids).
Stress: Perfection Pressure
Strategy: Go With the Flow
There’s something about the holidays that brings out the perfectionist in all of us. We want to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, and the perfect hostess. And we want a perfect holiday season, too. Maybe it’s the idealized version of Christmas that we want to recreate for our families. Maybe our childhood memories aren’t so great, and we’d like to do better by our kids. But by trying to make things perfect, you’re actually setting yourself up for a fall. “The need for perfection often leads to disappointment as perfection is often unobtainable,” warns Dr. Reigada. “Having a strong need to create an experience rather than letting one unfold often prevents people from being in the moment and enjoying their family and the event in a nonjudgmental way.” Learning to go with the flow can help us embrace the imperfections that make our holidays memorable and real.
Stress: Too Much to Do
Strategy: Learn to Say NO
From finding the right gifts for your seven nieces and nephews—not to mention wrapping them—to putting out those let’s-make-the-neighbors-jealous holiday decorations and picking up your great-aunt Annabel at the airport at five a.m. Christmas morning, your “To Do” list is in danger of sucking all the fun out of the festivities this season. So your first “To Do” item—as foreign as it may feel—is to say no. Maybe it’s asking other family members to pitch in, or adjusting traditions so that they’re less stressful. “If hosting is a big source of stress, rotate who hosts each year or pick a local restaurant,” suggests Dr. Reigada. Just keep your priorities in mind: “Asking for help or saying ‘no’ will not only reduce stress but will also allow your family to enjoy your company, and you can remain in a festive mood instead of being stressed out,” says Dr. Reigada. And isn’t that what the holidays should be all about?