Managing Stress Over the Holiday Season

Jack.Fitzpatrick@tcig.com.au'

by Jack Fitzpatrick

No one wants to let stress take its toll on the holiday period. Drawing on the World renowned experts The Mayo Clinic and closer to home strategies devised by the University of NSW, here are some helpful tips we can all take onboard to ensure we enjoy the holiday season rather than endure it.

It’s common knowledge that the holiday season can sometimes bring unwelcome guests — stress and anxiety.  And it’s no wonder, the holidays present a dizzying array of demands including parties, visitors, shopping, cooking, cleaning and entertaining. On top of that, many of us have just experienced one of the most challenging periods in living memory, as we’ve had to adjust to living through a global pandemic.

Reassure yourself that stress and anxiety are common during the festive season and that these feeling are normal, especially this year. Above all, being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support, helps ward off stress and anxiety. You can minimize the stress that accompanies the holiday break – and you may even enjoy the time more than you thought you would – by taking some practical steps as outlined below.

Tips to Prevent Holiday Stress

When stress is at its peak, it can be difficult to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and anxiety in the first place, especially if holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past. Here are some useful tips from The Mayo Clinic to help you cope better during the holiday season:

Take a serious breather

Make some time alone for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find things that reduce stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm and then bring yourself back to where you are through slow breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. Some options may include anything from taking a walk at night and star-gazing to meditation, mindfulness, yoga and getting a massage.

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. Saying “no” is an important self-compassion strategy.

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. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.

Acknowledge your feelings

If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realise that it is quite normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s okay to take time to cry or to express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.

Reach out to others

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 can be a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.

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. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are that they are feeling the effects of holiday stress too. Understand that if certain family members don’t get along, they won’t get along at Christmas.

Stick to a budget

Before you go gift 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.

Plan ahead

Set aside specific days for shopping, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That will help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure you line up help for party prep and clean-up.

Don’t abandon healthy habits

Over-indulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Ensure you stick to established routines. Try these suggestions:

  • Incorporate regular physical activity into each day – Be it a session at the gym or a walk around the block, any exercise will do wonders for your mental health.
  • Have a healthy snack before holiday parties – Eating beforehand helps to reduce the risks of overindulgence.
  • Get plenty of sleep -Studies show that lack of sleep only compounds feelings of stress and anxiety – try to stick to a routine of eight hours a night.
Reflect

Take the opportunity to look back on the year and celebrate your achievements – regardless how small they seem. We all have much to be proud of as we’ve responded and adapted to the challenges of COVID-19. As you plan for the year ahead, try to develop positive goals that contribute to your health, wellbeing and self-compassion. Write down all the positive things you’ve experienced and activities that made you feel good over the year.

Enjoy a positive Festive Season with Resilience

The following strategies devised by the University of NSW can also contribute to a positive holiday season with resilience.

Self-compassion

If a friend was going through a difficult situation what would you say to them? What support would you offer them? Take your own advice. Write down the advice and practice saying it to yourself.

Positive reminiscing

Recall positive events in your life and recall their positive impact. Recall the benefit of these situations.

Acts of Kindness

Find one wholly unexpected kind thing to do tomorrow and just do it. Notice what happens to your mood. It can make us feel calmer, increase our feelings of self-worth, and increase oxytocins “the feelgood hormone” which reduces blood pressure and increases self-esteem and optimism.

Wellbeing

Track your wellbeing during the year by using the PERMAH survey. PERMAH is a model of wellbeing developed by Martin Seligman, the founder of the positive psychology movement. The survey provides feedback on P (Positive Emotions); E (Engagement); R (Relationships); M (Meaning); A (Achievements) and H (Health). The survey is found here.

Finally, 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, or unable to face routine chores. If these feelings persist, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. The number for Beyond Blue is 1300 224 636.