The holiday season is fast approaching. For many, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year is anything but “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” If you find yourself getting overwhelmed every December, you may need to start to take steps now to avoid holiday stress later.

There’s No Shame in Experiencing Holiday Stress (and Depression)

Many people feel stressed out around the holidays. There are many reasons for this – from all the special events and celebrations to memories of those you have lost. But experiencing stress when those around you are feeling festive is nothing to be ashamed of.

Get Help Now to Avoid Holiday Stress

Talk to a psychotherapist today to develop coping strategies for a happy holiday season.

Stress is a natural biological reaction to the pressure of increased responsibilities, needs, and demands on your life. It is normal, and it is neurochemical. A stressed brain releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in response to mounting demands. In the short-term stress prepares your body to meet the challenge ahead. But when that challenge is planning for a month-long holiday season chronic stress can wear you down, increase your anxiety, and negatively impact your health.

5 Ways to Avoid Holiday Stress

If you can feel the holiday stress building, you may want to put some of these strategies in place to help you better regulate your body’s response to seasonal demands. By starting now, you can avoid holiday stress and create better memories with family and loved ones this year.

1.      Start Planning Early

Putting off buying gifts, setting up decorations, or planning for the holiday season can result in increased stress as the day draws closer. Sit down with a calendar now and block out your most important celebrations. Next, set aside blocks of time for things like cleaning, cooking, shopping, and gift wrapping. By planning when you will do these things in advance, you can prevent holiday stress over a shopping list is as long as Santa’s.

2.      Handle Holiday Prep Bit by Bit

For some, holiday stress comes from the feeling that there is too much to do. Thinking of holiday preparations as a whole can get overwhelming quickly. To avoid feeling stressed or overtaxed, try breaking the process down into pieces, and then taking care of them bit by bit.

For example, if cooking Thanksgiving dinner feels impossible, look at what you can buy now and save (like cranberry sauce, boxed stuffing, or frozen desserts). What can be made a day or two ahead? Are there dishes you can delegate to a guest? By breaking up big projects and asking for help, you can make tasks more manageable and give yourself more time to enjoy the holiday.

3.      Communicate Boundaries with Relatives and Friends

Holiday stress can also result from trying to meet everyone else’s expectations. Despite family pressures, you get to choose where you will go, how long you will stay, who will get invited to your events, and whether you will participate in family gift exchanges you can’t afford or rituals that make you uncomfortable.

In setting boundaries, it is important that you clearly communicate with those closest to you early in the planning process. Don’t say yes if you mean maybe or maybe if you mean no. Be clear about what you will and won’t do. Once you commit, follow through (unless there is an emergency) and do your best to maintain a good attitude.

4.      Maintain Health Habits Alongside Holiday Celebrations

The holiday season often brings with it treats, alcohol, too little sleep, and trips away from your home environment. That can be disruptive to healthy habits! You don’t have to say no to every holiday cookie (though those in recovery should still maintain sobriety). However, you should make plans now to maintain your healthy habits during the holiday season. This could include:

  • Continuing morning meditation or evening prayers
  • Seeing if your gym has a location near your holiday destination
  • Putting limits on consumption of sweets or drinks
  • Taking naps when you can
  • Staying hydrated

5.      Decide How You Will React to Family Conflict

Perhaps the biggest source of holiday stress comes from anticipating family conflict. You can’t control what your relatives will do or say. Someone at Thanksgiving dinner may well say something you find offensive or wrong. What you can determine is what you will choose to do about it. Plan ahead about what you will do if you feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or defensive. You can set boundaries around certain topics of conversation, plan contingencies for others’ behavior, and have a plan for when to walk away.

Get Help Managing Holiday Stress

There is no shame in feeling holiday stress, but you don’t have to handle it alone. A psychotherapist can help you figure out the cause of your feelings and create plans for dealing with them. Working with a professional now can set you up for a happy holiday season.

David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps adults and couples handle life stresses through short-term therapy or ongoing counseling. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.