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Manage holiday stress

Two candy canes making a heart

With the anticipation of the holidays, there can also be that feeling of dread – how are you going to get everything done on an already busy schedule? For many people, the extensive preparations they engage in to pull off those picture-perfect holidays create so much stress, that they can’t even enjoy themselves.

The “picture-perfect” part is where much of the stress originates from. Many of us want everything to be “just right” and try to pattern our holiday plans with visions of TV specials, Norman Rockwell prints, and Martha Stewart magazine pictorials in our heads.

To easily prevent part of the stress is to forget about perfection and unrealistic expectations. Acknowledge that this time of year can get very hectic, and that in real life, things won’t be and don’t have to be perfect.

Set realistic goals for what you can accomplish. This will include the practice of saying “no” to working on certain projects or activities, delegating tasks or allowing family members to volunteer their help, and reconsidering your holiday schedule to determine which activities or traditions should be continued. If an activity is more hassle than it is enjoyable, it may not be worth doing.

10 tips to prevent holiday stress

In 2020, Mayo Clinic updated 10 tips on their website, that prevent holiday stress and depression. 

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief and to express your feelings.
  2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  3. Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to and be open to creating new ones. You may also have family members that may not be able to attend the holiday events in person, but you can still celebrate together by exchanging e-mails and texts, calling, or having a video call where everyone can visit together. 
  4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion.
  5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Maybe try alternatives such as donating to a charity in someone’s name, giving homemade gifts, or starting a family gift exchange.
  6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That'll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
  7. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity.
  8. Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Remember to pace yourself on the party snacks, get plenty of sleep, and regular physical activity each day.
  9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm. Try techniques like walking at night and stargazing, listening to soothing music, getting a massage, reading a book, or meditating.
  10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Don’t forget to schedule some time for yourself after the holidays to lower stress levels and make them more manageable. 

And finally, always keep your sense of humor! Maintaining your sense of humor during the holidays keeps things light and puts a different perspective on situations that can come up.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Cheri Burcham is responsible for family life programming in the counties of Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie, Shelby and other parts of east central Illinois as needed. Cheri’s emphasis is on healthy lifestyles throughout the life span which include family relationships, communication, caregiving, stress management and human development including early childhood and healthy aging. Her passion is to help people to be their best selves and to promote a healthier, independent older population. When Cheri is not engaged in Extension work, she can be found raising Monarch butterflies and spreading the word about their amazing life cycles and migration to anyone who will listen!