Ah, the holidays- the carols, the gatherings, the festivities… For many, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.
But with the hustle and bustle of every holiday season, there can be more pressure and more stress.
Stress is an unfortunate byproduct of life and is unavoidable. It even accompanies positive events and things we are wholeheartedly looking forward to.
Personally, I love the holidays. (And my waistline often suffers for it.) After all, the holidays are all about friends, family, food, and fun.
So here are my tips for managing holiday stress and getting the most out of gatherings, both big and small.


1. Lower Your Expectations

Having high hopes for the holidays is one thing, thinking that your holiday is going to be absolutely flawless and that everyone will remember it fondly, another. I’m reminded of one of my favorite holiday movies- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
In the movie, Clark wants to have the perfect Christmas. From having the perfect tree to the most elaborate light display, his plans cover it all.
And yet, at every turn he is met with disappointment and frustration. It all works out in the end, but not in the way that Clark ever imagined.
My advice to Clark would be the same as my advice to you: keep it simple. Make sure you build in plenty of down time and activities to de-stress.


2. Stick to Your Norm

Don’t give in to the holiday bulge. Try to eat as you normally would. Not everything has to be a treat.
Why do you think so many people have a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and why the number gym memberships spike in January?
Maintaining a healthy weight is much easier than losing those ten extra pounds you packed on during the holidays.
So do yourself a favor this year: keep to your normal eating and exercise routines and avoid the guilt of overindulgence.

3. Shorten Your Must-Do List

We all have activities which we love to take part in during the holidays, but feeling like we have to squeeze in each and every one of them during a short holiday adds stress.
Ask each family member what their absolute must-do activity is for the season. Stick to this list.
You may be surprised at how quickly you can make fond memories when you’re not feeling rushed to do so.

4. Reduce the Time You Spend Shopping

While I’m not suggesting that we adopt the beliefs of Ebenezer Scrooge and say, “Bah humbug!” to the holidays, a little restraint goes a long way.
If you’ve been a parent for more than five minutes, you know that the thrill of having the latest and greatest toy wears out faster than the fascination with the box it came in.
Plus, research shows that spending money on experiences yields more happiness than spending on things.
Personally, I do almost all of my shopping online in order to avoid the crowded malls. Amazon loves me.
And instead of spending hours shopping for the perfect gift, I spend time down on the floor playing games with my girls.
These are the things I hope they’ll remember long after the last ornament is taken from the tree.

5. Beware the Symptoms of Stress

Learn to pay attention to your body and learn the warning signs of stress. The symptoms can include:
  • Headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Chest pains, rapid heartbeat.
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite or overeating “comfort foods”.
When these symptoms do occur, take a breather. Do something to unwind. Some simple exercises to relieve stress could be:
  • Peeling and eating an orange.
  • Raising your arms over your head and giving them a good stretch.
  • Doing some yoga, meditation, or other mindfulness activity.
  • Finding some quiet time with a good book.
It’s okay if you experience these symptoms during the holidays. Many people do. If these symptoms persist weeks after the holiday season is over, you may be dealing with anxiety or depression and should speak to a mental health professional.

No matter where you find yourself this holiday season, remember- be kind to yourself and one another.

Happy Holidays!