How to reduce stress around the holidays

A retro woman shopping with bags illustration
Photo by studiostoks/Shutterstock

Tis the season to be jolly. Also, stressed. Along with all the nice parts of the holidays (the gifts, the parties, the food), there are also a lot of stressful parts (buying the gifts, planning the parties, making the food). So while this is one of the most magical times of year, it can also be one of the most difficult.

But letting the stress of the season get to you defeats the whole purpose of the holiday. Joy and loved ones are meant to be at the core of this season. If you find that your sense of peace and fellow-feeling has been replaced by a giant ball of stress, you might need to hit the reset button and find a way to manage your holiday anxiety. Fortunately, we have a few tips that may help make managing the holiday season a little more bearable.

Learn to be zen in a crowd

One of the most widely reported stressors over the holidays is the masses of crowds and lineups that seem to appear in every public space. Navigating stores and sterets when the people around you are in a gift-buying frenzy (or you’re in one yourself) is difficult, but learning to manage your stress in these situations is totally worth it. So what should you do when you’re trapped in a stressful, crowded area? First things first: breathe. If you feel tension starting to rise, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that calm comes from within. Next, focus on getting to where you need to go without rushing. In fact, hold yourself back. Move slowly instead of competing aggressively with others over space. If you find yourself in a long line, pop in your earbuds and appreciate the extra time to listen to a podcast or some music. Living in the era of the smartphone means lineup boredom is a thing of the past.

Focus on what’s really important

Sure, getting to the front of a store lineup, or getting your dinner in the oven on time, or getting your kids into their perfectly coordinated holiday outfits can can feel like issues of life-or-death importance, but if you’ve ever heard someone mention first-world problems, this is what they’re talking about. So if you didn’t manage to get your centrepiece done in time for a big family dinner, or if you forgot to remove the tags from a gift you’ve already wrapped, it’s time to embrace the two most important words in the English language: who cares? As much as it may seem like holiday preparations are consuming your life, when you look at the big picture, most of the things we worry about during this season are unimportant. And strangely, one of the best ways to de-stress is to stop focusing on your to-do list and take a moment to think of others. Make a donation to Doctors Without Borders to help Syrians in crisis, or volunteer to help serve meals at a shelter. Once you’ve done that, you’ll realize that your imperfectly cooked turkey isn’t a travesty—it’s a funny family story that will be told for years to come.

Don’t spend more than you feel comfortable with

Money stresses are huge during the holiday season. Whether it’s buying gifts or grabbing takeout because you have no time to cook, this time of year can be expensive. Worst of all, money issues tend to make us want to run away and hide instead of facing them head-on. But, as always, facing the issue head-on will lead to less stress in the long run. So take a look at your finances and what you have to spend, and make a budget. If you can’t afford to buy a gift for your third cousin, don’t sweat it. If you feel strapped cash and can’t buy gifts for everyone, we recommend buying or making cards for friends and family—and putting real thought into them. What many of us want from friends and family are words of humour, love, and acceptance, and that is a gift you can give no matter how much money you have.

Try having an un-holiday get-together

For some people, almost every aspect of the holidays can be stressful or unpleasant: the music, the crowds, the colours, the gifts. If you break into a cold sweat when you hear “Jingle Bells” and feel your heart race when you smell gingerbread baking, you might need a break from the holidays altogether. So instead of going to a holiday party, try having an un-holiday party. Get some friends together and hang out with just one rule: no one is allowed to talk about the holidays. Instead, watch a non-seasonal movie, drink a non-seasonal beverage, and bring your focus back to the things you love about your everyday life. Taking a break from all things seasonal will give you a needed boost—maybe even enough of one that you’ll be able to face a mall full of Christmas muzak again.

Get some exercise

Exercise may be the most reliable stress-busting activity there is. So if you’re buzzing with stress energy, it’s possible that you might just need to work it out (literally). Just going out for a brisk walk is enough to help clear a fog of swirling thoughts. And if you’re stuck in a stressful family situation, heading out for a walk or run offers a much-needed escape. Plus, let’s face it: no one at the gym is thinking about whether it’s you or your sister makes better gravy. So adopt that mindset for an hour and get active.

Listen to your gut and go with the flow

Feel like ditching your plans to make a fancy dinner and ordering takeout Chinese food? Do it. Not up for yet another holiday party? Skip it. Instead of pushing yourself to have the “perfect holiday,” do what feel right for you. As Bruce Lee said, “Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” So make like a willow and bend to your own whims this season. You’ll be happier for it.

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