Ways to Manage Holiday Stress
Stress is a weird thing. We can know so much about it. We can have all the tools possible in our toolbox to stave it off. And yet this time of year comes around every year and all the knowing and tools seem to suddenly disappear.
The intention of this blog post is a friendly reminder of ways to manage your stress during the holiday season.
Sometimes we just need those friendly reminders to tap us back into our awesomeness.
No doubt the last couple of years have been anything but "normal", and there's a feel in the air that collectively says, "please let's get back to normalcy" (whatever that may be).
For many it's a sense of familiarity. And with familiarity during the holiday season it generally means getting together with family, spreading your energy too thin, and trying to pull off one of those Hallmark Holiday Movie scenes or some variation of that. Maybe a version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles?????? I don't know, but you do.
So lets get to the good stuff-----ways to navigate the familiar without losing ourselves in the process.
1. Political disagreements
In some families, political discussions can lead to major family disagreements or outbursts.
How to prepare: Make the topic off-limits. Guess what? If you're hosting, you absolutely have the right to reach out to your family before your holiday gathering to let them know you’d prefer not to talk about politics. If you're attending at someone else's house, you can choose to not participate in the conversation. You can share that you'd rather hear about what’s going on in their lives. Or choose to change the subject.
Day-of tactics: If politics still come up, gently remind your family that you’d prefer not to discuss the topic. You can also excuse yourself from the conversation and take a short break. Go for a 15-minute walk or chat with another family member.
2. Financial stress of gift-giving The pressure to give gifts can push some people to buy presents they can’t afford — or skip holiday events out of embarrassment. How to prepare: Don’t spend beyond your means just because it’s the holidays. So often families seem to be afraid to talk about money, budget, or gift giving, and behind the scene is so much stress. Be willing to have a conversation with your family. If you're not wanting or are unable to participate in the gift-giving festivities, then be honest about it. Do not feel you have to overexplain it, but rather let them know you won't be participating in the gift exchange this year, but you’re looking forward to watching. Other suggestions would be to suggest only getting for the kids or drawing names to keep costs down. Believe me, you might be surprised how many will be relieved at these suggestions. Day-of tactics: Work on staying present and grounded if you start to feel anxious or upset. You can tune into your breathing. Taking long, slow controlled breaths causes you to concentrate on your breathing, which allows you to feel more connected to your body and allows your mind to calm.
3. Social stress of gatherings Some family members are eager to celebrate with big holiday parties and meals. Others may prefer smaller gatherings due to COVID-19 — or to keep things more manageable. It's not personal, but yet it is personal. Meaning, everyone's comfort and safety levels are personal to them--not about you. How to prepare: To help manage the stress of family gatherings — big or small — set clear boundaries. It’s OK to ask that everyone who comes to your event be vaccinated or wear a mask. If you’d rather keep it small, briefly explain your reason. You can also offer alternatives, such as spacing out celebrations with different relatives or having virtual visits. On the flipside, it's OK to let everyone know if you're uncomfortable attending. Again, no need to overexplain. Day-of tactics: Try using simple one-liners you can prepare ahead of time. For example, “This is my comfort level.” or “We’re getting off-topic.” Less is more in these types of situations. So, if someone asks why you’re not going to an upcoming gathering or why you’re wearing a mask, you can have a quick one-liner ready to go.
4. Grief and loss of loved ones While you might want to honor the deceased openly during a holiday event, it may be too difficult for others. How to prepare: Best recommendation is approaching your family ahead of time to talk about ways you can honor loved ones. For example, "I’d like to celebrate mom this holiday by going around the table and each of us saying one thing we loved about her.” Ask others how they feel about it, and make it clear there’s room for negotiation. If they push back, suggest something smaller like putting up a photo of her or making her favorite food. Day-of tactics: In stressful or difficult moments, take a few minutes to center yourself. Go for a walk, pet the dog, call a friend. Or pull up your favorite cat photos or YouTube videos on your phone — whatever helps you. The key is to have a few of these stress-relieving items on hand so you can use them when you need to.
5. Not enough time to visit loved ones Maybe you need to visit multiple sides of your family, or both of your divorced parents, plus your partner’s family. Trying to juggle all these events can leave you feeling stressed, guilt-ridden, and exhausted. How to prepare: If you have multiple events to attend, it’s best to let each host know about your time limitations in advance. And be honest with yourself about what you can actually handle. You don’t have to say yes to everything. Give yourself permission to say no. Day-of tactics: When you get to the party, remind your loved ones about your schedule....not in a way that feels like you have to set a timer and constantly check on it, but rather approach it more like ‘I’m so grateful I get to spend this time with you today, even though it’s for a short while'. 6. Someone who drinks too much A family member drinks too much alcohol and starts to get offensive, annoying, or aggressive. How to prepare: Give yourself permission to leave if things aren’t going well. This means not relying on other people to get to or from the party. Either drive yourself or schedule an Uber or Lyft ride. Set yourself up so you have the freedom to take off if you need to. Day-of tactics: If someone is overdrinking and making you feel uncomfortable, steer clear of them. Trying to be rational with them in that moment is not good for you, and it’s just going to cause more conflict. If it gets too tense, give yourself permission to leave.
BONUS - A Simple Self-care Practice That's Highly Effective
Self-care is such a beautiful thing, and it's essential to your health, wealth and happiness---truly. During the holidays we should be practicing it more because whether you're navigating holiday get-togethers, virtual or in-person events, it's an absolute necessity.
This year consider using a technique called bookending. Here's how it works: Do something ahead of time to help take care of yourself (i.e., mediate, long hot bath or shower, listening to peaceful music, practicing those long, slow controlled breathes as referenced earlier in this post). Then, after you’ve finished the event, do a happy dance, play your favorite song, or call your best friend. Do something to celebrate that ‘I did that, I made it through.’
And at the end of the day remember, you can't change others just as they can't change you (unless you let them). You can only control your actions. So decide how you want to spend your holidays and do so guiltfree.