Insights: Managing Stress Over the Holidays

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There are two reactions I get from people regarding the holidays.

Number one: “I can’t wait for the holidays and seeing my family.”

Number two: “I can’t wait for the holidays to be over.”

Relationships can be very complicated at this time of year, even the best ones.  Stress can take away the purpose and joy of the season.  Let’s look at how we can tackle some of these stressors.

Issue One: We are so busy taking care of the details of getting the right gifts, attending parties, and decorating the house, that we neglect what the holidays are all about.

Solution: Make sure we take time for one-on-one connection with each relationship that is important to us. Create rituals that are positive and actually create more closeness that can add meaning to our lives. Make a plan that ensures we do not over schedule.

Issue Two: The holidays can become all about the money and can put stress on our finances.

Solution: Make the holidays about meaningful gifts, experiences and kindness.  Small gestures mean more to people than large or generic gifts.

I have a friend who sets up with all her friends to give a donation to their favorite charity as their gifts. What a lovely idea. I remember one year they bought a cow each for a woman in India to be able to start her own company and feed her family.

Issue Three: Committing to too many events.

Solution: Set a goal of how many events you want to attend or which events are essential. Then say ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ to the rest of the events. It is not worth putting that much stress on ourselves.

Issue Four: There is too much food and too much alcohol around.

Solution: Make a plan of how we are going to manage our food and alcohol over the holidays. It is okay to enjoy, but plan for it. The average person puts on ten pounds over the holidays.

I tend to agree with Buddy from the movie Elf when he says, “We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.” I will add chocolate to that list. Just keeping it all in moderation.

Issue Five: Exercise tends to be put on the back burner to keep up with commitments.

Solution: I make my exercise a priority for a lot of reasons, including dealing with the increase in stress and the increase in food intake. It also keeps some normalcy over the stress of the holidays. Make exercise a non-negotiable on our schedules.

Issue Six: Increase in stress.

Solution: Take time for yourself. You will actually get more done if you take time to relax, get a massage, or go for a walk. Remember, this time of year is about celebration and connections, not stress and anxiety.

Issue Seven: We get caught up in what we think we should do.

Solution: Know your boundaries. Do not be afraid to say “no.”

There are no should. Make a choice of what we want to do. I have decided at times to not decorate or even not do gifts due to life circumstances. It is okay.

Issue Eight: Dealing with people you do not want to deal with.

Solution: Again, boundaries. If we are meeting people for dinner, make sure we drive ourselves so we can leave when we are ready. Maybe it is dealing with people who drink too much or talk too much or you just do not connect with or even have unresolved issues with. Set up a plan of how you are going to manage these people. Maybe have your partner or friend help.

A general solution to all of the above issues is to make a plan of how you want the holidays to go. Start with the idea of what is important and then work backwards to what needs to happen now.

Some people love shopping last minute. To me, that feels like a nightmare. My plan is to have all my shopping done by Thanksgiving. And yes, all my shopping is done. Know what works.

Slow down. Take the time to enjoy connections with people who matter. Set boundaries. Make memories. Make a difference. Remember these words from Helen Keller: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”

Contact Dr. Shelly Zavala at or [email protected].


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