Even when your family is amazing and you don't have that crazy relative who always gets out of control (who are we kidding, we all have that relative), the holidays can be stressful.
A time that should be festive, peaceful and full of love, becomes about fighting traffic, long lines, bad moods, and overall stress. Seeing family isn’t always easy either, when many have unresolved issues and it's harder than ever to fake the “togetherness” the holidays pressure us to feel.
Here are 12 ways to cope with the stress of the holidays, that can also apply to your life post festivities.
Lower the expectation
Thanks to Hallmark, Pinterest, and Instagram, we have unrealistic expectations of what the holidays should be like. We picture ourselves being just darling, holding a cup of hot cocoa while wearing plaid matching pajamas, laughing in unison while The Proposal plays on the screen and sugar cookies bake in the oven.
It hurts when in reality your holiday cookies turned out gross, the matching pajamas you ordered from China were 3 sizes too small, everyone argued during the best scene of Elf, and your totes adorbs Instagram pic only got 9 likes.
To lessen the stress - lower the expectation. If your family tends to bicker, don’t expect a Christmas miracle and everyone merrily getting along. By accepting what you can’t change, you lower the tension in your body and mind -- and subsequently, the disappointment and depression post holidays.
Be honest with what you can offer, and know your limits
It’s important to know your limits during the holidays. You can’t be three places at the same time, and everything will take longer than usual due to traffic. Remember this when you are committing to Christmas parties and family get-togethers, and try to actually under-commit -- chances are you will be right on target.
Learn to say no
Repeat after me: “No” is a complete sentence. Of course there are things we have to do. But the holidays are a perfect time to practice using the word “no”. You will feel compelled to accept every invitation, agree to bring extra food, get pushed into a corner to travel across the country (again), or even to host the party when you don't want to. Stand up for yourself and your family and say “We would love to see you, but we have decided to [insert the thing you actually want to do here] this year.”
Have an escape plan
If you are visiting relatives with your significant other, it can be helpful to have a signal. If things get overwhelming or you are ready to go, have a pre-agreed-upon plan that gets you out the door quickly and swiftly.
Set a time limit for the stress
There is a lot of preparation for Christmas - gift shopping and decorating can take several weeks. Set a day to do a hard stop - when that day comes, put down the credit card, stop hanging one more garland, and start actually enjoying down time, alone, or with your loved ones.
This one we need to learn to do throughout the year. Mindfully doing the dishes can actually be soothing. Mindfully making the bed each day can be calming. By mindfully doing each task on your list and not rushing to get things done as quickly as possible, you can learn to still your mind and keep anxiety at bay.
Don’t fake it if you don’t feel it
We all feel pressure to have a permasmile on our faces during the jolly season. However, it’s a proven fact that suppressing your true emotions leads to stress, anxiety, and depression. Chances are you will have to fake it a little to get through that dreadful work party, but where you can help it, be honest with yourself and your friends. Say “thank you so much for having me, but I’m feeling overwhelmed and need to recharge for a bit”.
I promise you won’t be the only one feeling that way, and people will be grateful that someone else is saying it out loud.
Spend time alone
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, spending time alone is beneficial to anybody. Being by yourself with no distractions gives you the chance to clear your mind, problem solve, and to rest our mind from being “on”.
If you are going to be around family 24/7, make an excuse to run to the grocery store, do the morning coffee run, or take a morning walk by yourself for a chance to decompress and do a little self-care during the holidays.
Understand and avoid known triggers
You most likely already know your stress and anxiety triggers. Maybe it’s the loud noises of opening presents on Christmas morning, or maybe it’s the incessant questions about your job and what you’ve been up to. Avoid putting yourself in situations that trigger your anxiety, and cause the rest of your day to be spent trying to recover.
If you are able to, tell a trusted person you will be skipping that part of the day, or have pre-prepared answers for those pesky questions and a plan to steer the topic to something less stressful. Whatever those triggers are, find the antidote.
If you are hosting the holidays, don’t let yourself try to become a superhero. Of course you want to be the perfect hostess who has it all together (who doesn’t!), but if you are cheating yourself out of laughing with your kids, watching Home Alone for the millionth time, and missing out on good holiday fun, it’s worth it to delegate the potato salad to Aunt Carol.
Acknowledge the anxiety
Most people feel some level of anxiety or depression during the holidays, whether it’s because of unresolved family issues that are still lingering, or because they will be spending the holidays alone or away from family.
The biggest problem with this, however, is that no one is talking about it openly. We promise that you won’t be the Grinch who stole Christmas by opening up and acknowledging that there are negative feelings going on - you might just be opening up a much needed conversation, and giving yourself and others, much needed relief.
Know your personality and socializing style
You can’t do any of the above things if you don’t know yourself well, and haven't yet determined where you fit in on the social scale. Having a close relationship with yourself and insight into what settles or rattles your nervous system is key in coping with holiday stress.
Start by paying close attention to the subtle signals your body gives you, and seek help to develop coping skills.