Handling Holiday Stress
Updated: Dec 13, 2019
The holidays are here! I have a theory that when it comes to coping with emotional stress, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day are the worst for women. If we are not careful, there is something about that eleven or twelve week time frame that can beat our spirits down. It is supposed to be the season of comfort and joy, but sometimes we get so bogged down by life’s stressors, it’s hard to be joyous. If we aren’t stressing over needing money, we’re stressing about having to do all the holiday cooking ourselves, or about work not giving us enough vacation time, or having a minimal gift purchasing budget. Whatever our stressors may be, we feel them so much more around this time of year.
In my experience, women’s holiday stress levels manifests itself in two basic scenarios:
If we are in a relationship, we are either stressed about what will or won’t happen over the course of the upcoming months. Are there children in our future? Will our marriage always be this happy? Will we get engaged? Will we be invited to family gatherings? Then there are all the things on our ‘To Do List’ that still need to get done and all the people we have to deal with to accomplish them. Deciding on our co-worker’s secret Santa gift or remembering to defrost the turkey can be just as stressful as figuring out how we are going to save the world by next week or what we will do on New Year’s Eve.
If we are not in a relationship, we often spend too much time lamenting over the missing person in our life and wondering when they will appear. We perpetually suffer from ‘the grass is always greener syndrome’ where we watch other people in their relationships, assume their life is perfect, and wish ours were similar. All the while we are oblivious to the stress levels on the other side and can only see that green grass. We’ll wonder; Where will my life go next? Should I focus on me and not worry about relationships? And we still need to figure how we are going to save the world by next week and if we should mail holiday cards this year.
There is so much to think about during this time that it’s hard not to go crazy. I hope these tips will help you keep a little bit of your sanity.
First and foremost, remember the point of the holidays. Whatever that point may be for you, remember it. For me it is being happy and thankful for who I am and what I have. It is okay if my life isn’t perfect and my bank account is a little empty. Life is never perfect and a lot of people have empty bank accounts, that’s life and it’s pretty normal for it to be like that. I just have to remember that nothing is insurmountable. Life is going to happen -- all I can do stay grounded, and make the best of it.
Before you decide what makes life important to you, try to take the material things out of the equation. Since I found that being at peace with myself is extremely important, I have to constantly remind myself that only the happiness I generate from within defines how content I can be. If I don’t make myself happy, everything else is superficial. Sometimes it’s hard to not sweat the small stuff and I often do struggle to keep my perspective. Writing affirmations like “Everything happens for a reason” and “Happiness comes from within,” then keeping them at my bedside, in my car, or on my bulletin board at work has helped me to the keep positive thoughts at the forefront of my mind. After all, positivity should always have a visible presence.
As with most things in life, moderation is key but this is especially true when it comes to dealing with family. Most of us love our families but let’s face it, sometimes they are huge sources of stress even when it is not holiday time. From in-laws to immediate family, to dealing with stepchildren and ex-wives, there is always someone who is going to work our nerves. We may not have a choice about who is in our family, but we can choose how much time we spend with them. It is easier to control this dynamic if you are the one doing the visiting instead of having the visitors. When you are the visitor, you can plan how long you will stay or when you will arrive, so it is much easier to extricate yourself from a stressful situation.
If you are having visitors, you are not so lucky. Since it is your house and you are responsible for your guests, you usually can’t hang out elsewhere for long periods of time but you can try making some quite time for yourself. This can mean an impromptu, solo trip to the grocery store just to get out of the house for a little while or maybe hanging out in your bathroom for a half an hour for some peace and quite. Do whatever you need to do, just have a plan for it! Even if you do not anticipate family working your nerves, have a Plan B as a precaution. In many cases, the heart really does grow fonder when you have periods away from people, so give yourself the space you need so your heart can grow fond again. An hour sitting in your car listening to your favorite tunes might remind you why you love and appreciate your family so much, even if they are acting up at the moment.
Along this same vein, the general planning of ‘me time’ is an absolute necessity for life, but even more so around the holidays. Too often we feel guilty for needing time to ourselves. I can’t stress the importance of letting go of that guilt and taking ‘me time’. Me time is rejuvenating. After a long stressful week, sometimes spending a day in your pajamas watching TV or reading a book, in between naps and with no other distractions, is just what the doctor ordered. Send the kids to grandma’s house for a day, treat yourself to a massage, whatever you do to relax, do it and don’t ever feel guilty for taking that time to rejuvenate yourself. You are no good to anyone, including you, when you are rundown and beat up and you are probably grumpy too, so get in your ‘me time’.
Something else to keep in mind when dealing with holiday stress is not to misdirect your anger. This is a good rule of thumb in general, but it takes on a particularly powerful dynamic during the holidays. If you are upset at your husband, don’t take it out on your kids. If you are angry with your mother-in-law, don’t blow up at your sister. Don’t make that headache your dad gave you over Thanksgiving your co-workers problem the next few weeks. If you are generally frustrated about something, whatever it may be, recognize that and be mindful of taking that frustration out on others. Even when your frustration is aimed at the right source, deal with it in non-destructive ways. Wait until you have calmed down to have a much needed conversation or see if the tips below help you to relax, relate, and release.
De-stressing - quick tips for dealing with stress and frustration:
1) Do something that is physically stress-reliving Exercise is always a good choice. Although it would be nice if you spent an hour at the gym, you don’t have to. You can dance, you can jog, you can hula-hoop, just do something to get you up and moving. Take a jump rope onto your porch and jump for 10-minutes, I guarantee you will feel better and those 10-minutes will carry over. Exercise has a lasting effect, therefore don’t underestimate the power of your endorphins to carry those good feelings forward. Exercise will even help you sleep better.
2) Do something that is mentally stress-reliving Try talking to someone—Jesus, Buddha, Allah, a friend, a therapist, whoever! Talk to someone that makes you feel reassured about things (avoid those who make you feel worse). If you know other women going through a rough holiday season, support each other. If you feel like talking to others would burden them, you can speak to a professional to get objective advice and to learn better coping techniques. You can also pray and soothe your soul that way. Remember the two are not mutually exclusive, so you can speak with a professional and pray too!
3) Make one spot in your home a sanctuary If you can get your house all cleaned and straightened before holiday madness that would be ideal. But if you can’t, just pick one spot to put into tiptop shape and make it your sanctuary. It really can be anywhere, from the kitchen, to the bathroom, to a closet, just pick a place you know you can feel at peace and get in some ‘me time’ without worrying about what else needs to get done.
4) Don’t overdo it Don’t try to be too big for your britches or to bite off more than you can chew. Moderation is still key and it won’t be the end of the world if you bake three pies instead of six. Knowing your own limitations is the starting point to effectively handling holiday stress.
Now go forth and prosper!