Managing Stress During the Holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but for many, it is also a time of stress, loneliness, and even grief. While there is much to celebrate this season, the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and holiday parties can leave many of us feeling exhausted and frazzled. A packed calendar, an overstretched budget, challenging family dynamics, and unrealistic expectations can be more than enough to make anyone climb under the covers and wait for the new year.

This year, however, we at Pardee encourage you to honor your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health so you can savor meaningful celebrations, time with loved ones, as well as get some needed peace and rest. Here are our tips for celebrating and managing stress during the holidays for more joy.

Prioritize What Matters Most

Stress is not always caused by negative circumstances—sometimes it comes from an overabundance of good things. Take a deep breath and think about what is most important during this season. If your holidays include religious observances, step back and reflect on their deeper meaning to you. Even religious activities can get overwhelming, however, when there are too many, so choose wisely what you will attend and be careful not to overcommit. 

Ask yourself if what you’re doing adds value to your life and the lives of those around you. For example, could you donate to a charitable cause in your loved ones’ honor instead of wrapping up something they really don’t need? 

Whatever you do, give yourself the permission to simplify this year.

Take Care of Yourself

Between hosting guests, cooking meals, shopping for presents, and cleaning your home, you may feel like you have no time for yourself. To avoid illness, stress, and depression, it’s crucial to take care of yourself.

Try to sleep seven to eight hours per night, get regular physical activity, eat healthy meals and snacks, pray or meditate, and talk to a friend, counselor, or spiritual advisor if you need extra support.

Realize that the better you feel, the more love and energy you will be able to give to others.

Let Go of Unrealistic Expectations

From television ads to social media to the neighbor’s decorations, it often seems like everyone else is having a perfect holiday celebration. No one is perfect however, and holding yourself up to unrealistic expectations can bring feelings of disappointment and not being enough.

To combat these feelings, try making a list each day of five to ten things for which you are grateful. Gratitude lists are a fantastic way for you to focus on the positive, rather than negative, aspects of your life. 

Reach Out to Others

If you are feeling lonely during the holidays, try reaching out to others, whether it’s someone at your church, a neighbor, a coworker, or a family member who lives far away. A simple phone call, a cup of coffee, or a greeting card boosts your spirit and theirs.

Another excellent way to make connections this season is to volunteer your time. Many local organizations need your time and resources. Choose a cause that is meaningful to you. You’ll not only help people in need, but you will also have a chance to connect with other volunteers in the community.

Grieving During the Holidays

If you have had a recent loss, the holidays can be a painful reminder of those who are no longer present in your life. It is okay to take time to grieve. Consider doing something a little different this year: start a new tradition, such as having the holiday meal somewhere new or lighting a special candle. Grieving is hard work, so pay attention to the things that nurture your spirit and expend your energy there. 

When Stress Becomes Too Much

Our emotions and mental states can cause physical problems. Consult your doctor if you feel excessively stressed, and/or begin to show the physical manifestations of stress, which can include headaches, trouble sleeping, anxiety, panic attacks, feelings of depression, alcohol or tobacco abuse, and weight gain. Click here to find a physician near you.

Remember, the holidays are about celebrating your beliefs, loving others and taking time to reflect. Give yourself permission to slow down, let go of perfection, and savor what is meaningful to you.

Molly Garnett, MA, BCC

Spiritual Care Manager, Chaplain
UNC Health Pardee

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