The holiday season can be extremely stressful—loads of responsibilities, obligations, driving in the snow or rain, cooking and cleaning, entertaining less-than-perfectly-welcome guests—the list goes on. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Isn’t it?
With these practical tips, you can minimize the headaches this year and just enjoy your holiday.
Of course, every family and every situation is different. Not all of these strategies will work all the time, but having the right tools available when you need them can make all the difference. Some problems may require professional help, so seek that out if necessary.
1. Step Away
This is the most important strategy for dealing with holiday stress, and the most enduring.
When it’s needed, sneak away to be alone for a few minutes, regroup, breathe, focus.
Protect your peace and the peace of your family, peacefully. Get it? It seems a bit obvious, but it’s very important. Sometimes it simply requires that we take a step back, and keep our biggest stresses an arm’s-length away.
2. Be Careful About Judging
An important part of any relationship is mutual toleration. There’s no law that says you always have to like your family members. We can simultaneously love somebody and be thoroughly irritated by them. Hopefully, that’s not the case, but it’s not so uncommon. Human beings are very complicated. Live and let live.
3. Reach Out
If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community or other social events. Often we will find companionship happily available if only we ask. Volunteering oneself as a friend, or a helper, or a listening ear can do wonders for stress. Relationships contribute meaning to life. Make a new friend. Choose to increase effort toward the people around you, and just vibe with a tribe.
4. Dare to Say No
Friends and families must be understanding that you can’t host or participate in every project or activity. You can’t always match a person’s expectations for an occasion, and that has to be okay. Sometimes we must say no, and we must maintain strength and poise through the sea of disapproving voices. Be yourself and wear it proudly!
*Warning* Setting boundaries is an art more than a science.
5. Be Realistic
Despite our best intentions, the holidays don’t have to be picturesque and perfect. As families change and grow, traditions will often adapt to the times. Traditions are nice, but if perfection is your goal, it will only frustrate you because perfection is a mirage! Besides, it’s not a contest to see who can produce the most special holiday. It’s a time to come together and enjoy life. Sometimes the biggest faux pas becomes the most treasured memory that you joke about for years. Do your best, let nature do the rest.
6. Set Aside Differences
Try to accept friends and family exactly as they are, even if they don’t live up to your expectations. If there are grievances, it is better to address them at a time when tensions are not high. Try not to get distressed by other people’s actions or values. Speaking or thinking ill of others is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Remove toxic people from your life as much as that can be done, then practice radical patience as you peaceably establish yourself as free and autonomous and wonderful you.
7. Plan Ahead, Then Be Flexible
A great way to reduce stress is to have a plan. If you’re on a rowboat in the middle of the ocean and you see no land, it’s difficult to motivate yourself to row in any specific direction. But when you see land in the distance, you know what you need to do. Similarly, it can be useful to have a plan for how you expect holiday gatherings to go, and then, much like the rowboat, make efforts to get where you want to be. It’s important to be flexible and allow things to take their course, but also assert gentle force when you can. Find clever ways to manipulate the crowd, but if it doesn’t work just take it easy.
8. Stick to a Budget
Before gift shopping, and before food shopping, decide how much you can afford to spend and stick to it. Don’t try to buy happiness. If the holidays create financial pressure, that is sure to manifest itself as unhealthy stress somewhere along the way. The best gifts have something different about them– an energy, a specificity, a joie de vivre–that has nothing to do with money.
9. Remember Healthy Habits
We tend to think about the Holidays as a time of indulgence. The average American eats 4,500 calories at Thanksgiving dinner and thus kicks off the holiday season. Not this season! You’re not getting any younger. Get up in the mornings and go for a jog in the mountains, or get to the local rec center and swim some laps. Eat a huge salad for lunch, and lighten up just a little on the chicken fried steak and waffles dinner. (Delicious.) Bring a crazy superfood salad thing to Christmas dinner, and talk about the unbelievable health benefits. Take care of yourself and the people you love! There’s a huge link between diet and mood! Oh, and don’t drink too much.
10. Connect With Your Deeper Self
A few days ago I was feeling very stressed out. Sometimes it feels like I need a clone if I’m ever going to accomplish everything I need to. That evening I overcame my anxiety with two simple activities that relieved my stress: I did yoga / meditated, and then I walked to the library and checked out some books. The library trip was surprisingly helpful because I connected with the idea that there is a big project going on that is a lot bigger than me–it includes all of us– and I am lucky to be a part of this fascinating world.
Wherever you are this holiday season, I hope it’s peaceful, stress-free, and lucid!