From picking perfect presents (and overspending in the process), to preparing the perfect feast (and overeating in the process), to spending time with far-from-perfect family members (and overreacting in the process), the “season to be jolly” can easily morph into the “season to be stressed.”
Physical and Mental-Health Fallout
While daily life is sprinkled with stress, the December holidays can bring a heaping helping that can not only sour what should be a joyous season, but also can negatively impact your physical and mental health.
From a physical-health perspective, blood pressure can increase and immune function can be compromised, which makes us vulnerable to a host of illnesses. Stress also can leave even the most hardy feeling anxious and unable to sleep or concentrate. Unchecked stress can even lead to clinical depression.
Preemptive Stress Strategies
The first step toward avoiding holiday stress and its negative effects is to identify the “grinches” – those aspects of the season that are most likely to trigger a stress response – and then arm yourself with preemptive strategies. According to a recent Mental Health America survey, the most common holiday stressors are:
- financial pressures;
- too many activities;
- family issues;
From mailboxes chock-full of Christmas catalogs to midnight madness holiday sales, the slogan of the season seems to be: spend, spend, spend. Experts contend that the key to avoiding overspending is to set a budget and stick to it. Additional recommendations include taking a hard look at your gift list and distinguishing between people you want to buy presents versus people you feel obligated to buy presents. Those who fall in the obligated category can likely be eliminated from your list without the world coming to an end.
In addition to overspending, another pitfall of the season is overextending ourselves, i.e., so much to do, so little time. Although we may wish otherwise, the number of hours in a day doesn’t change come December. Consequently, stress strategists advise setting realistic limits regarding how much shopping, cooking, and attending parties one actually can do. Then cut yourself some slack and realize that it’s OK to not do everything; it’s OK to sometimes send regrets.
For many, the joy of the season stems from spending time with family. For others, however, spending time with family can be a source of stress. Some family members appear bent on pushing other family members’ buttons. Experts note that – while we can’t control other people’s behavior, we can control our reactions to their behavior. As a starting point, repeatedly tell yourself that you’re not going to let the family button-pusher rattle you.
On the overindulgence front, the key is forgiveness. Overeating a bit here and there hardly falls into the high-crimes-and-misdemeanors category. Nutritionists caution, however, that the entire month can’t be used as an excuse to throw portion control and calories to the wind. For example, if you’re going to several parties, you shouldn’t overindulge at every single one. It’s important to be thoughtful regarding your food choices.
Make Children the Centerpiece
Perhaps the most effective holiday-stress buster is to make children – be it your own, or grandchildren, or the offspring of friends and neighbors – the season’s centerpiece. It’s difficult to be stressed out when sharing holiday joy with a youngster.
Toward that end, if family holiday traditions aren’t already in place, there’s no time like the present to start some of your own. Possibilities include:
- Use an advent calendar – or a calendar of your own creation – to launch a countdown to Christmas, Hanukkah, or other important event of your choosing.
- Together, decorate your house – inside, outside, or both!
- Corral the kids in the kitchen for an afternoon of baking holiday treats.
- Start a family selfie tradition – pick a clothing theme, set the camera’s timer, and say cheese! Repeat annually, either with the same or a new theme.
Similarly, you can start traditions and have gatherings with dear friends, especially those who don’t have children or are far away from family. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you also plan some time for just yourself. That’s one of the best gifts of all.