Amidst the twinkling lights and festive cheer, it’s no secret that the holiday season can bring about its fair share of stress. From bustling shopping malls to packed schedules and the pressure to create picture-perfect gatherings, many of us feel overwhelmed this month. This Christmas, give your body and mind the gift of de-stressing. When you learn how to better manage stress during the holidays, you don’t just get to savor the season more — you also boost your immune system, reduce your risks of numerous illnesses, and enhance your overall health and happiness.
Ho Ho Ho: Why Holiday Stress Is Nothing to Laugh At
If you’re feeling stressed this holiday season, you’re hardly alone. “U.S. adults are feeling joyous but overwhelmed this holiday season, as nearly nine in 10 (89%) say that concerns such as not having enough money, missing loved ones and anticipating family conflict cause them stress at this time of year,” according to a 2023 study conducted by the American Psychological Association.
In fact, 41% of Americans say that compared to the rest of the year, the period between November and January is significantly more stressful for them. And that can get in the way of truly being able to enjoy the season. “While stress appears to be common at this time of year, 43% said that the stress of the holidays interferes with their ability to enjoy them and 36% said the holidays feel like a competition,” reports the APA.
Some of the most common stressors that people often encounter during the holiday season include:
- Budgeting for gifts, travel, decorations, and hosting expenses
- Balancing increased social obligations with regular responsibilities
- Navigating family gatherings and managing various expectations
- Dealing with crowded airports, traffic, and potential delays
- Perfectionism: Striving for the “perfect” holiday experience
- Saying “yes” to too many events or tasks
- Dealing with feelings of loneliness or grief during a time focused on togetherness
- Comparing one’s holiday experiences or gifts with others, leading to feelings of inadequacy or pressure.
And that stress, if left unchecked, can be the unwanted gift that keeps on giving.
Potential Problems If You Don’t Manage Stress During the Holidays
The holiday season coincides right with the cold and flu season. And nothing’s worse than feeling under the weather amidst all the festive busyness. When stress becomes chronic or overwhelming, it significantly impacts your immune response, leaving you more susceptible to illness. For example, stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that, in small doses, helps regulate the immune system. However, prolonged stress leads to elevated cortisol levels, which can suppress the immune response. This suppression weakens the body’s ability to fight off infections and diseases, highlighting the importance that we all better manage stress this month.
Chronic stress also contributes to increased inflammation in the body, causes a decline in immune cell production, and increases the time it takes for the immune system to recognize and respond effectively to germs and bacteria.
Beyond your immune system, if you don’t manage stress this Christmas, it can also lead to numerous other stress-related health concerns:
- Cardiovascular issues
- Digestive problems
- Mental health concerns
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight gain
- Impaired cognitive function
But you don’t have to let stress run havoc and turn your Christmas season into the chaos seen in the 1983 classic film National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Manage Stress This Christmas: Strategies to Soothe Seasonal Stress
Let Santa worry about traveling the world and corralling the elves. In the spirit of the 12 days of Christmas, the 12 practical tips on this list — don’t forget to check it twice! — will help you savor the season without feeling overwhelmed.
1. Plan and Prioritize
Create a realistic plan for the holidays. Prioritize events and commitments, focusing on what matters most to you and your loved ones. Set boundaries and don’t be afraid to say no to additional obligations.
2. Budget Wisely
Last year, the average person spent $920 on gifts — one of the highest amounts seen in the past decade. More alarmingly, 1 in 4 Americans say that they’re still paying off debt from buying gifts last Christmas!
Set a budget for gifts, travel, and entertainment to avoid financial stress. Consider alternative gifts such as homemade items or experiences rather than expensive purchases.
3. Practice Time Management
Organize your schedule by creating to-do lists or using a planner. Break tasks into smaller, manageable steps and avoid leaving everything until the last minute.
4. Maintain Self-Care
Prioritize self-care routines. Get enough sleep, eat balanced meals, exercise regularly, and take time for activities that relax and rejuvenate you.
New to self care? Check out out 7-part series on self-care, starting with our introductory blog post. Some of the pillars discussed include the importance of mental health and mental wellness, how exercise is a valuable form of self-care, why healthy eating and nutrition is key, how to reduce health risks, the value of nurturing your spiritual health, and how connection to nature is important for overall wellness.
5. Set Realistic Expectations
Embrace imperfection. Recognize that things might not go exactly as planned, and that’s okay. Focus on creating enjoyable moments rather than aiming for perfection.
6. Limit Technology Use
Take breaks from social media and electronic devices. Engage in activities that don’t involve screens, allowing yourself to disconnect and unwind.
7. Delegate and Collaborate
Don’t feel like you have to do everything alone. Delegate tasks to family members or friends, encouraging collaboration in holiday preparations.
8. Practice Mindfulness
Take moments throughout the day to breathe deeply and be present. Mindfulness techniques like meditation or deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress and increase resilience.
Grab a warm cup of tea, cozy up in your favorite blanket, and embark on a journey to understand how you can use rituals to slow down and engage more with the present moment.
9. Manage Expectations
Be open about your limitations and communicate your needs with family and friends. Discuss and manage expectations to reduce potential conflicts or misunderstandings.
10. Seek Support
Reach out for support if feelings of stress or anxiety become overwhelming. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or seek professional help if needed.
11. Create Meaningful Traditions
Focus on creating meaningful traditions that bring joy rather than adding to stress. Choose activities that align with your values and promote genuine connections.
12. Remember the Spirit of the Season
Reflect on the true meaning of the holidays for you, whether it’s spending quality time with loved ones, giving back to the community, or expressing gratitude.