Four Ways to Keep Holiday Stress at Bay

Wouldn’t it be nice to spend December floating in the pool in the sunshine by yourself? For better or worse, that’s not what most of us are doing. This month my clients are fielding relatives from afar, organizing family trips, juggling end-of-year work demands, and working to keep on top of their mental health during the busiest time of year. Here are a few tips for keeping the worst of the holiday stress from getting to you.

1.    It’s the little things

There’s a lot going on at this time of year, and a lot of pressure: to juggle plans, to organize get-togethers, to find the exact right presents, not to mention keeping up with the ongoing demands of everyday life. Take a moment to enjoy something small and easy to get right. Grab a holiday beverage with a friend, pull out a favorite cozy sweater, or light a candle and put on some chill music at home. Don’t miss out on enjoying the holidays by trying too hard to make them perfect.

2.    Don’t cave to unreasonable demands

Every year I hear from people who are stressed out with trying to please everyone. The worst case is when a family member or other loved one is making demands without lifting a finger to help! Remember that you don’t owe anyone a particular kind of holiday celebration. If someone has to have the holidays exactly their way, they’re free to make arragnements themselves. Regardless of whether your planning involves sticking to a budget, outsourcing some of the work, or simply not doing everything exactly the same way year after year, your efforts are valuable and worthy. Any effort at all is worth more than a complaint!

3.    Hang on to your own limits

Bringing family together from far apart (whether geographically or culturally) can be extra stressful, especially if your lifestyle, views, or values are very different. Don’t let the holidays become a referendum on your life choices. If this is a thing for you, give yourself permission to keep some topics off the dinner table when judgmental relatives are around. It’s usually helpful to be kind and firm rather than hostile or defensive. Try: “I’d rather not go into it, let’s talk about [more comfortable topic] instead,” or, “you know, I’d rather hear more about what’s new with you.” Pick a line, decide in advance what you are and aren’t willing to discuss, and stick to it.

4.    Let go of shoulds

This is a big one all year, but can be especially important when the traditions and expectations of the holidays start to bear down. Holiday marketing, movies, and media are inundated with images of happy, skinny, partnered, wealthy, successful people, and for some, it can feel like a harsh spotlight on their own struggles and problems. Shoulds also show up in all of the ways discussed here: our own shoulds about getting the holidays right, shoulds about what that looks like from those around us, and shoulds about our lives in general. When you hear (or think) a “should,” ask yourself, “says who?” See if you can change it to a statement about a want. This simple reframe can reduce a lot of the guilt or shame that comes with shoulds. Instead of “I should have finished my shopping by now,” try “I was hoping to be finished by now, but I can still get it done.” Instead of, “I shouldn’t be so single/poor/depressed/behind/negative judgment,” try, “I’m doing the best I can, and I’m working on doing better. That’s all I can ask of myself.” Then let go of the judgment and allow yourself to enjoy the things that are going well in your life, even just the little things.