Calm in the Chaos: Strategies for Handling Holiday Stress

The stockings were hung by the chimney with…overwhelming stress…?

Wait, that’s not it. Well, for some folks, maybe.

The holiday season comes with a mixture of emotions. And those feelings can range from pure excitement to entirely down and out. Which adds a whole new layer to what should be “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Whether you’re dealing with tricky family dynamics or feeling just plain icky, those negative emotions can be pretty difficult to shake. Let’s dig into holiday season stress and how you can handle it.

Understanding Holiday Stress

If this season is supposed to be a happy time, why does it make some people feel so low? There are a few reasons why this happens.

With all the festive celebrations and cheerful music, our expectations often clash with reality. From jam-packed schedules to financial pressures, these factors can cast a darkness on what’s supposed to be a merry time.

Yet when we face reality, we remember that things are rarely as they’re supposed to be. And we can control our actions and look for ways to bring a little bit of warmth back into the season.

What causes holiday stress?

You name it! There are no limits or guidelines for what is considered acceptable holiday stressors. If you’re feeling it, it’s valid. And some of those feelings might linger a little longer than we’d like.

Common stressors during the holidays:

  • End-of-year deadlines
  • Family tension or conflicts
  • The pressure to make life picture-perfect
  • Financial stressors
  • Packed schedules and overcommitments
  • Unmet expectations
  • Loneliness or isolation

It can feel like there’s no quick fix for your mood during this time of year. Sometimes, you must prioritize self-care and navigate the season as best as possible.

However, understanding why you’re feeling less than merry can help you find effective ways to manage and alleviate those negative holiday-related feelings.

Effective Time Management

Many holiday stressors relate to you feeling like you don’t have enough time in the day for everything you want to accomplish. And as the holiday season approaches, schedules become jam-packed.

Time management skills aren’t something we learn in school. It seems like you’re a pro or you’re not. The good news is that most people can improve this with a bit of work.

Proactively making adjustments beforehand is crucial for maintaining a sense of calm and harmony in your life.

Prioritizing and planning your holiday time

During the holidays, everyone has their own set of priorities. Whether it’s spending quality time with family, completing work projects before the break, or engaging in personal traditions, knowing your priorities can help you allocate your time accordingly.

Schedule time for each priority once you’ve identified what you genuinely care about. Use calendars to ensure you stay on track. Try not to overwhelm yourself with too many activities. Remember, you can’t be everything to everyone.

Setting boundaries

Boundaries are essential, especially during the holidays. Communicate yours and be clear about your specific time commitments. It’s OK to decline party invitations for any reason, especially if they overwhelm you. Keep some free time for what’s important.

While boundaries are essential, staying flexible allows you to make new plans as needed. Unexpected events require you to shift your schedule, so be prepared.

Don’t forget to make time for yourself during the holiday rush. Personal time helps you recharge and maintain balance, reducing stress and increasing productivity.

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Sometimes, all that holiday cheer can be a little too strong. And when you start to feel overwhelmed, don’t take it out on yourself. There’s no “right way” to do the holidays, but being mindful of your feelings can help you prioritize yourself.

Embracing mindfulness during the holiday season helps you acknowledge any stress without letting it take over. It can help you focus on the present moment and offer a sense of calm amidst the chaos surrounding you.

Deep breathing or guided meditation serve as grounding tools to alleviate stress. They work toward restoring your inner peace, fostering a sense of calmness and tranquility during the holiday rush.

Holiday Budgeting and Financial Tips

Having enough money to spend on the holidays is a heavy stressor that many people struggle with. The bill can add up quickly between gifts, meals, activities, and other expenses.

According to The Conference Board’s Holiday Spending Survey, consumers reported spending an average of $1,006 on holiday-related items in 2022, with $613 spent on gifts.

Be realistic. Don’t let anyone pressure you to overspend if you lack money this time of year. And to avoid going broke, plan ahead and try to save money. Pinching pennies is no way to start a new year.

Plan ahead for holiday spending

Start your planning a few months ahead. Or consider adding to a holiday savings fund year-round so you’re not spending as much money all at once.

Look for sales, coupons, or online deals to make your money go further. Keep an eye on Black Friday sales after Thanksgiving.

Create a budget for holiday expenses

Allocate your funds based on your priorities and determine how much you can afford to spend. Make a list of essential expenses and leave room for flexible ones. You can also make a gift list and set a spending limit for each person you intend to buy for.

Remember to keep tabs on your holiday spending so you don’t exceed your original budget. And leave a little extra room in your budget for those unexpected expenses or last-minute purchases.

Get creative and DIY gifts, or find budget-friendly presents. Try low-cost alternatives to expensive gifts and activities, and consider making new family traditions that don’t cost an arm and a leg.

Healthy Eating and Exercise

Eating is an easy way to cope with stress, especially during the holidays. And while all the yummy treats are tempting, keeping a balanced diet is essential to sustain energy levels and mood stability this season. We’re not saying you can’t splurge on sweet treats, but try to be mindful of the reasons why you’re indulging makes all the difference.

Striking a balance between enjoying the holiday goodies and prioritizing nutritious meals can help you rock this season inside and out.

Along with trying to eat well, finding time for some exercise can boost your holiday spirits, too. Whether baking sugar cookies, dancing to your favorite tunes, or going on a family walk to enjoy the neighborhood lights, these small bursts of movement can make a big difference in your mood.

Remember, eating well and moving your body during the holidays isn’t about restriction. It’s about finding enjoyable ways to maintain your overall well-being and mental health amidst the festivities.

The Power of Social Support

There’s great value in talking to friends and family about what’s going on in your life. Sharing with loved ones can provide relief and validation and remind you that you’re not alone during this challenging season.

Reach out to people you trust and express your feelings, but be mindful of your boundaries and theirs. Be sure to ask them if they’re willing to support you and share what kind of support is helpful for you during the holidays.

It’s essential to be specific with what you need. Be clear about what you seek: emotional support, help with event preparation, or someone to listen.

Asking for support when needed can be challenging, especially if you don’t have supportive folks around you. Support varies for each person, so don’t confine yourself to just one type.

Contact a professional to discuss your challenges if you need more support than your family and friends can give. Sometimes, a neutral person is all it takes to make you feel validated and comforted.

Create Meaningful Traditions

Traditions play an important role in making the holidays easier to manage. They offer comfort, connection, and joy during this stressful season.

Starting new traditions can bring a sense of renewal to the otherwise dark cloud that comes with the holidays. And it allows us to take control of our feelings and do something positive with all that negative energy.

Some ideas for creating new enjoyable traditions:

  • Start volunteering together to spread kindness
  • Holiday-themed storytelling
  • DIY your decorations with photos, ribbons, and glitter
  • Outdoor winter activities like walking, sledding, or snowshoeing
  • Revive or repurpose classic family recipes

Incorporating meaningful traditions can instill positive emotions, strengthen your family’s connection, and create memories, easing stress. These examples also shape a legacy for generations to come.

Dealing with holiday stress is no walk in a winter wonderland. And for many, the negative vibes can linger well into the new year. But finding ways to navigate your seasonal highs and lows is about embracing self-care, setting boundaries, and seeking support when needed.

Remember, whichever way your holiday spirit swings, we want to remind you that it’s valid. Your feelings are valid. And you are valid.

If you need support this season or any time of year, call Recovery Unplugged at (855) 954-1194. You do not have to do this alone.


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