The holidays. What a carefree and relaxing time of the year! Right? Not always.
It seems the joy and glam of the holidays I felt as a child slowly dissipated once I became an adult and now have the duties of decorating, cooking, cleaning, entertaining, shopping and gift-giving. I was like, “Wait… the turkey doesn’t magically appear on the table? The elves didn’t put up the tree? My family wasn’t getting along every minute? My presents were bought with actual money!?” Goodbye wonderful holiday cheer, hello stressful event that I will now be a part of! The holidays, while fun, can create negative emotions, such as anxiety, frustration, loneliness, and annoyance. Perfectionism comes out, people-pleasing sets in and fear of not doing enough begins.
Are you able to bring the joy back into the holidays without all that emotional mess? The answer is yes. Here are a few tips I have used to help get through the stressful times in order to maintain a happy, and mentally healthy, holiday season.
1. Take a breath.
You’re probably thinking, “Really? This is what she’s starting with? I do this every day!” When dealing with stress and anxiety, many people will hold their breath or breathe very shallow, causing lack of oxygen to the body that actually increases stress. The thing is, we don't even realize we are doing it! Something so simple that we have effortlessly done since birth becomes a challenge.
So what can you do about it? Become aware of your breathing. Take a few minutes to consciously notice your breath inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Notice your stomach expand out with every deep breath in and settle back down with every release. Just a few moments of actively breathing will not only allow your stress to reduce, but your heart to slow down, hands to stop shaking, body tension to relax, mind to stop racing, and focus to regain. Just remember: BREATHE.
2. Less is more.
When thinking of the holidays, one thought comes to mind: MORE. More food, more gifts, more decorations! By the end of the month, you are broke, tossing boxes of temporary decor in storage and dealing with leftovers for the next month (that, honestly, you probably won’t finish and will throw away). I get it, I’m guilty of it. I am that Italian woman who is cooking for fifteen people when I am serving four, getting multiple presents for each family member and buying that blow-up Santa watching a penguin ride a motorcycle through the entire North Pole city because I thought it was “cute.”
As my husband says, “Less is more.” Buy enough food for the amount of guests you have; look at the packaging to see serving sizes. Limit yourself to one present per person. Make a special, significant gift instead of buying one. Many large families will participate in a secret Santa or gift exchange to limit spending. These suggestions not only reduce financial concerns, but make shopping and preparing a lot easier.
When decorating your home, remember - it will not be there all year, so the more you put up, the more you have to take down! Don’t spend time making sure every wall, floor space and ceiling are covered. Relax, enjoy decorating and think: quality not quantity.
3. Ask for help.
If you are one of those people who loves to do everything yourself and thrives on being overwhelmed, then ignore this step. For the rest of you, listen. There is absolutely no reason to take on all of the responsibilities of the holidays by yourself. I’ve heard many people say they “feel bad” asking for help, but you will feel worse being exhausted and frustrated. Keep it simple: Ask each guest to bring a dish, someone to clear the table, help with dishes, pour the drinks. This will allow you to stay relaxed, entertaining to go smoothly and it creates a supportive environment. Ask and you shall receive.
4. Enjoy some self-care.
No doubt the holidays are about giving to others. Through gifts, food, drinks and celebrations we are focused on providing more and more for friends, family and loved ones. But what about yourself?
To help stress levels stay low, it is important to practice self-care. Not only for relief, but sanity! Take some time to read a book, have a cup of coffee or tea, get a full 6-8 hours of sleep (unless circumstances decide otherwise, I understand). Find a moment to do something for yourself.
Another thing to remember is that it is OK to treat yourself. If you see a present (budget friendly) you would personally enjoy, such as a cute mug or a pair of socks, go ahead and get it. Now, I’m not saying go crazy and buy that Keurig you’ve been wanting all year… still be mindful, but a small gift to yourself can help bring some joy and satisfaction to your day.
5. Have fun!
The most important step for a stress-free holiday - have a good time. Don’t get so wrapped up in all the details that you forget what the day is about. Play some games, watch football, put on holiday music and dance. Laugh. Keeping your spirits high will make sure the stress is low.
By: Vanessa Rowe, LMHC
Vanessa Rowe is a counselor at Agape Therapy Institute, specializing in working with individuals and adults with mental health conditions, eating disorders, and substance abuse disorders. To learn more about Vanessa, click here.