If you look forward to the holidays with a mix of joy and jitters, you’re not alone. In a survey by Healthline magazine, more than 60 percent of readers — from millennials and Gen Xers to baby boomers — reported feeling some stress during the holidays. Finances were by far the biggest stressor, with 47 percent citing money matters as the biggest cause of their anxiety. The next most common stressors were eating healthy and exercising (16 percent) and picking the right gift (15 percent).
While it’s wonderful to get caught up in the festivities and the spirit of giving during the holidays, don’t forget to give yourself a gift, too. Treat yourself to some self-care with these seven tips for easing the holiday stress.
1. Set realistic expectations. Don’t overdo the entertaining, shopping and decorating. Only do as much as feels right for you. It’s OK if your house doesn’t have the most elaborate light display on the block or if you bow out of hosting that New Year’s Day brunch. Saying “yes” to too much can leave you feeling stressed out.
2. Recruit a help crew. Ask friends and family members to pitch in with holiday preparations. Instead of cooking the entire family dinner yourself, have a potluck and ask each guest to bring a special dish. Put the kids in charge of trimming the tree. If you’re hosting a large gathering, consider hiring a professional caterer or cleanup service to ease your workload.
3. Find time for a recharge. Take a nap, go for a walk, get a spa treatment or meet a friend for coffee. Even short breaks and simple diversions can make a difference in lowering your stress level. The Mayo Clinic says just a 15-minute timeout can leave you feeling refreshed enough to tackle the rest of your holiday to-do list.
4. Balance holiday food indulgences with healthier bites. Maintaining a healthy diet during the holidays will not only keep you feeling better physically but it will also help keep you from stressing about your health. To reduce the temptation of those high-calorie sweets, cheeses and drinks at parties, the Mayo Clinic recommends eating a healthy snack before you go. Load up on vegetables on your first trip to the buffet. That way you won’t be tempted to skip the veggies later because you’re too full from eating the heavier hors d’oeuvres.
5. Try some relaxation techniques. When your nerves are frazzled, experts at Harvard Medical School recommend techniques like guided imagery (picturing soothing images or experiences in your mind) and breath focus (taking long, slow, deep breaths while blocking out distractions) to help you relax. Other useful strategies for destressing between holiday errands include meditation, journaling and exercising.
6. Volunteer to help others in your community. Consider trading in a shopping trip for a visit to a nursing home, children’s hospital or shelter for the homeless. Focusing on the less fortunate with a sense of gratitude and purpose may help make the pressure you’re under feel lighter. In a study of volunteers by UnitedHealthcare and VolunteerMatch, 93 percent reported experiencing better moods, 88 percent reported improved self-esteem and 79 percent reported lower stress levels as a result of volunteering.
7. Speak up if your holiday blues get worse. If your feelings of stress or loneliness become persistent and overwhelming, talk to someone. Maybe a chat with your spouse or a sympathetic friend will make all the difference. But don’t hesitate to seek help from a physician or mental health professional if need be. Some signs that you may benefit from seeking help from a professional include the following: Your feelings of anxiety become so intense and persistent that they interfere with your performance of normal daily tasks. You’re suddenly experiencing insomnia or, conversely, sleeping too much. You are misusing alcohol or drugs to relieve your stress.
Following these self-care tips will help keep you steady through the whirlwind of the holidays while giving you the gift of better physical and mental health.