Enjoy the Turkey and Skip the Side Helping of Stress

holiday stress management

There are a lot of big holidays just around the bend. 

What are you looking forward to the most? What are you kind of dreading?

Stress is common at the holidays

These year-end holidays tend to pack an emotional punch. They may fill you with excitement, good cheer, joy, angst, sadness, or loneliness. It could be a strange mix of feelings you like and don’t like.

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One feeling that’s rare to hear is some version of relaxed. A more common feeling is stressed.

Even if you don’t feel stressed, there are plenty of stessors during the holidays. These include: 

  • Living up to others’ expectations
  • Attempting to do too much
  • Changing habits for eating, exercising, sleeping
  • Getting together with people that aren’t easy to be with
  • Not being able to see the people you want to be with
  • Illness (all that closeness and hugging)
  • Travel
  • Overspending
  • Winter weather
  • Too much darkness and cold
  • [Add your stressors here]

The secret to less stress

When I do workshops on how to manage holiday stress, I usually open by telling participants that the secret to having a great holiday is simple.

Figure out what you want and do that.

Of course this is easy to say, hard to do. Three problems get in the way.

  1. You don’t know what you want. Perhaps you never thought to even ask yourself the question.
  2. You may not know how to get what you want.
  3. What you want may conflict with what the other important people in your life want, and you don’t want to deal with the discomfort that can create.

Okay, I get it. It’s tricky. At least it appears so. Have you tried it? Maybe it won’t be as hard as you think.

Ways to beat holiday stress

There are plenty of actions you can take that will help. Here are nine that work for me.

  1. Have a vision for what you want. If you want to spend less, have more time alone, and eat more vegetables; set that as your intention and make it happen for you.
  2. Do tasks because you want to, not because you think you should. If you like sending out holiday cards, go for it. If that seems like a chore you need to check off your list every year, skip it.
  3. Go easy on things you know make you feel bad. Have you ever felt good after stuffing down a huge holiday meal? How about after drinking too much? You know the consequences. Nobody is forcing you to overindulge. Make better choices.
  4. Avoid touchy subjects at family gatherings. If there isn’t a compelling reason for you to share your political beliefs with all the relatives, then don’t do it. Likewise, if someone tries to share them with you, don’t take the bait.
  5. If things seem to be going sideways, lighten up. Tight quarters, a couple glasses of holiday cheer, and family history often combine to create a tense situation. You might not be able to control what happens, but you can control your reaction. Take it as it is. Enjoy yourself.
  6. Don’t spend what you don’t have. Needing to rely on credit card debt to finance your holidays is a bad idea. The best parts of the holiday don’t need to cost a lot. Stretching yourself to create the perfect holiday is going to put you in a tough spot when the bill comes due. Think before your spend.
  7. Set your expectations appropriately. You know how these gatherings often turn out. Thinking it’s going to be different this year is a mistake. Believing it’s going to turn out like a Hallmark made-for-TV movie is a sure path to disappointment.
  8. Ask for help. You don’t need to do it all. If everyone expects you to create the perfect holiday, it’s time for them to take responsibility for the experience they want to have. And if it seems like they don’t care enough to help, they may not care if you don’t do it either.
  9. Take breaks. If the hustle and bustle start to overwhelm you, it might be time to send your regrets for a party that you don’t want to attend. Even bundling up and taking a walk on a crisp night is a good way to recharge.

Of course, knowing all the strategies for lowering holiday stress does you no good unless you try a few for yourself.

You can’t avoid the stressors, but you can control how your react to them.

Set your holiday goals, build your stress management plan, and enjoy the holidays.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce helps companies change by creating stronger teams, more effective leaders, and better processes. To discuss a challenge you're facing, use this link to schedule a free discovery call.