It’s that time of the year again: The air is crisper, there are Santa’s elves ringing bells in front of the shopping centers, holiday music is playing everywhere you go, and you have a calendar filled to the brim with parties and get-togethers. Unfortunately, all of this hustle and bustle can lead to some big-time stress. The good news is that there are some ways you can manage your holiday stress. Read on for nine ways that you can decompress and enjoy the holiday season with less stress and anxiety.
1. Keep a Running List
If there’s one thing that can make your stress levels skyrocket during the holiday season, it’s a nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something. Head this off at the pass by keeping a running list of the various tasks you have to complete, appointments you need to keep, gifts you need to buy, and gatherings you have to attend. You can jot down items as you think of them in your calendar or you can start a bullet journal, which is a handy way of keeping track of many different types of ideas, tasks, and appointments.
2. Set a Budget (and Stick to It!)
Everyone should have a budget for holiday spending. It’s very easy to get off-course when it comes to your finances in December. Since spending too much is likely to raise your holiday stress level not only now but also when the bills roll in in January, do yourself a favor and make a budget. If the term “budget” makes you wince, change your mind: Instead of thinking of it as a list of money you can’t spend, consider it a list of money that you can spend. When you know that the amount you’re spending is in line with your budget, you will feel less stress (and your bank account won’t be feeling the pinch).
3. Keep Your Expectations Reasonable
Is your holiday season going to be perfect this year? No, it is not. Someone’s child will cry, punch or wine will be spilled, somebody is not going to like a gift they received, and a dessert might end up burnt. Rather than get stressed out over these possibilities, consider what is the most important this holiday season. For most people, following traditions, seeing friends, and telling family members that they’re loved trump the little details that could go wrong. Focus on those and forget about the rest.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
You might be asked to attend gatherings you’d rather not and participate in gift swaps you can’t afford. Rather than accepting every invitation and stressing about it later, practice saying no. You can say no to people without coming up with an explanation; “no, but thank you for asking,” is a perfectly valid response. If you feel nervous saying something so vague, think of a few ways that you can decline politely in advance. For example, you might simply say, “thanks so much, but I have plans that day.” There’s no need to be more specific than that.
5. Delegate Tasks to Others
If your to-do list is getting long and causing some holiday stress, there’s no shame in delegating some of the tasks to others. Older children, teenagers, spouses, and other family members can absolutely take on some of the chores that go with preparing for the season. Whether it’s writing out invitations, shopping for ingredients, baking cookies, or wrapping gifts, you don’t have to do it all. Simply tell your family what you need them to do. You can even set aside an evening where everyone is required to stay home and help prepare for the holiday. Remember, you’re doing this so they will enjoy the season; there’s no reason that they can’t help!
6. Take Time to Exercise
It’s natural that when you have too many responsibilities piling up, you might skip your daily workout. Exercise not only keeps you in shape and your heart healthy but it also relieves stress, so don’t neglect this part of your day! If you don’t have time to go to the gym, at least squeeze in a 30-minute walk. Take a child or your dog along; they’ll enjoy the time spent with you and it’s good for their hearts, too.
7. Watch What You Eat
You’ll want to indulge in some holiday favorites this season, but don’t go too far. Filling up on sugary, fat-filled foods can allow holiday stress to get the better of you. Think about ways you can stick to your normal eating routines even during this busy season. For example, if you know you’re going to a party where you’ll be tempted by lots of delicious treats, eat something healthy before you go to take the edge off of your hunger. This will help you make good choices.
8. Go to Bed Early
Don’t be tempted to stay up late every night in an effort to get everything done. Get to bed at a reasonable time so you can get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. A lack of sleep makes stress and anxiety worse, and stress makes it difficult to sleep, creating a cycle. A sleep deficiency can also depress your immune system and make you more vulnerable to colds and the flu, which is the last thing you want messing up your holiday plans.
9. Take Time for Yourself
Finally, make sure you take some time to simply enjoy the season and breathe. Think about what you love most about the holidays. Is it ice skating? Driving around to see the lights with your family while drinking hot chocolate? Maybe you’d like to just take an hour to soak in the tub with a good novel. Whatever makes you feel pampered, be sure to take some time to do just that. Consider it your holiday gift to yourself.
Keeping holiday stress at bay comes down to some planning and some willingness to just let things go. Try not to let yourself get hung up on your expectations, and keep some of your routines as normal as you can. Keeping yourself calm through December will help you get 2018 off to the most well-rested and stress-free start possible!
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.