It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Or at least that’s what the Hallmark movies tell us… While the holiday season is traditionally known as a time of cheer and fun, you can’t argue that this time of year can be incredibly stressful and mentally taxing. Whether it be finances, family stress, the pandemic, or gathering preparations, the holiday season gifts us its fair share of stressors and anxiety. How do you deal with holiday stress?
Our stress and worry tend to be higher during a typical holiday season. But, here we are again experiencing the uncertainty of a new variant and how that might affect our holiday this year. Though many people have returned to a level of normal functioning and interactions with others, some are still very concerned about the unknown. What we do know is that chronic stress has an impact on our physical and emotional well being and many are already experiencing those negative impacts. To keep our stress levels in check means to keep our immune system stronger.
Here are 5 ways to manage holiday stress during these uncertain times:
Tip #1: Learn to say no.
Setting boundaries with family and friends is an important part of reducing stress around the holidays. Overcommitting to events or travel creates a lot of stress so learning to say no to invitations or even to family obligations can feel freeing.
Tip #2: Pay attention to your thought patterns.
If your thoughts are turning negative, it’s time to do something different. Catch yourself in a negative thought pattern and turn it into a neutral thought or a positive thought. Keep it simple like, “I’m ok right now”.
Tip #3: Eat well, even when you don’t want to.
Stress often causes us to reach for sugar or carb-loaded foods (to seek comfort). Instead, opt for protein-filled foods every couple of hours to stabilize your blood sugar (avoiding more stress) and to fuel those feel-good brain chemicals at the same time.
Tip #4: Connect how you want.
Due to the pandemic, holidays have taken on a different form. The loneliness of the pandemic has trickled into the loneliness of the holidays. If you are staying at home and cannot travel to family or friends, the loneliness can be loud. Be sure you talk to your family or loved ones about the importance of connecting with you while you are away. Test out technology before the gathering to avoid frustrations. Perhaps suggest an app that you can play games together from a distance.
Tip #5: Mental health
Think about how to take care of your body using the 4 pillars of mental health: nutrition, sleep, physical activity and meditation. When evaluating those pillars, ask yourself which one is the easiest for you and which one is the most challenging for you. Build on either of those categories first. Start doing this before the holidays and continue doing so after.
Holiday stress is a real thing and something that many people struggle with in silence. From the stresses of creating a perfect holiday to financial stresses and trying to spend time with family as a requirement, stress is not lost on most people during the holiday season. On top of typical stress, we are also grappling with pandemic fatigue, stress and loneliness. Stress has long been connected to problems with physical health and with mental health. When left unattended, stress will eventually have a negative impact on our immune system.
Dr. Teralyn Sell, Psychotherapist and Brain Health Expert