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9 Tips For Holiday Stress Management & Relief

By Heather Levin

As you’re well aware, the holidays are nearly here. Although this thought might be joyful for many, chances are that there’s a certain amount of stress creeping into your head as well.

Polls show that almost 90% of Americans feel some kind of anxiety or stress about the holidays. The shopping, out-of-control discretionary spending, decorating, cooking, visiting, and holiday entertaining at home can all add up and cause tremendous pressure on both adults and kids. When did things get so out of hand?

The Side-Effects of Stress

Stress has been linked to heart disease, cancer, depression, obesity, sleep problems, high blood pressure, digestive problems, chronic pain, migraines, anxiety, autoimmune diseases, and skin conditions, all of which can lead to major health expenses. It’s also known to speed up the aging process.

How do you know if you’re stressed out? Look for these symptoms:

  • Frequent anger or agitation
  • Feeling overwhelmed, sad or hopeless
  • Moodiness, going from high to low
  • Feeling lonely or isolated
  • Constant worrying
  • Feeling pessimistic
  • Can’t relax

You might also be experiencing physical or behavioral side effects, such as:

  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Inability to sleep, or sleeping too much
  • Neglecting your responsibilities
  • Using alcohol or drugs to relax
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Chest pain or rapid heartbeat
  • Frequent colds or little sicknesses from a weakened immune system
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Loss of sex drive

Luckily for you, there’s a movement slowly gaining steam which addresses our anxiety-filled holidays. Just like “Slow Food” and “Slow Living,” this movement is known as “Slow Holiday.” That is, people are willingly stepping away from the holiday madness to just slow down, play, and be.

Novel concept, right? I’m going to be doing this myself this year, and I’m really looking forward to it. Here are some ideas you can use to have a Slow Holiday this year as well:

1. Unplug One Day a Week
Between our iPhones and Droids, our home computers, and televisions, we’re constantly plugged in, which means we’re constantly getting bombarded with advertisements telling us to buy, buy, buy.

Why not unplug…literally? One day each week, take a digital vacation! Instead of watching TV, play with your kids. Instead of racing to answer your cell every time it rings, turn it off and read a book instead.

You’re likely going to end the day feeling refreshed and happy. I know I do. I canceled cable and stopped watching TV last year, and I’m not going back. When I take a digital vacation and cut all of the screen time out of my day, I love it!

2. Force Yourself to Slow Down
When was the last time you sat down and lingered over a cup of coffee and a good book? When did you last write in a journal, strum your guitar, or really take the time to enjoy the dinner you or your significant other cooked?

So many of us rush through our days, especially around the holidays. This leaves us feeling frazzled, chronically dissatisfied, and spent. I know I have plenty of days when I forget how important it is to slow down.

If you find yourself rushing from task to task or errand to errand while your patience is running thin, force yourself to slow down. I’m serious. Ask yourself this: will the world end if I don’t get this done? Will I even remember what this all-important task was a week from now? Much of the time, that answer will be a resounding “no.”

Instead of stressing yourself out, stop. Look around you. Admire something beautiful you can see. Go get a cup of coffee at the coffee shop, and NOT to go! Pick up your ukulele. Take some deep breaths.

Remember: your life should not be a To-Do list.

3. Discover the Joys of Small Things
During the holidays, I love baking. Cookies, breads, cakes…they all have a place in my heart, and my kitchen. Baking is one of my “Small Things.” That is, it’s a small activity that brings me a lot of joy. It’s both meditative and creative at the same time, and I make time to do it every week.

Do you have a Small Thing? A Small Thing is any small routine or activity that really makes you happy. It doesn’t matter if it’s reading the paper, assembling bouquets, working on a woodworking project, crocheting, or washing dishes; if it makes you happy, try to work more of that activity into your schedule, especially during the holidays.

Another good idea? Forget the expensive holiday decorations and use these cheap Christmas holiday decoration ideas. Many of these are at-home crafts and would be great to do with your kids or significant other!

4. Give
Most of us have way, way too much stuff. The whole process of gift-giving throughout the year is actually pretty wasteful.

Slow down this year by giving to charity. Even better, get your family and friends involved and do it together. Here are some ideas:

  • Sponsor a needy family. Provide a tree, food, and gifts for their holiday. The Salvation Army, your local church, local school, or local food bank probably all have a list of families in need of sponsorship.
  • Bring some homemade food or baked goods to your local hospice or nursing care facility.
  • Bring toys to children in the long-term care ward at your local hospital.

5. Reduce
Many parents feel the need to buy a ton of toys for their kids; they want every inch under the tree filled with presents.

An easy solution? Buy a smaller tree. Choose a few presents with care. Go for quality over quantity.

6. Get Some Exercise
I know you’ve heard this one a million times. And it’s for good reason! Exercise has been proven, time and time again, to lower stress level and increase serotonin (the chemical in our brains that make us happy).

If you’re not a fan of the gym, then find some fun ways to sneak a workout routine into your day.

7. Learn to Say “No”
You don’t have to hit every holiday party. You don’t have to go to your sister’s for New Year’s Eve if you don’t want to. And you sure don’t have to go with your mom out to the mall to help her shop.

If there’s anything you don’t want to do, don’t do it. Say “No.” It might be a novel concept, but trust me…it’s really liberating.

8. Have Realistic Expectations
Often, people can get stressed around the holidays because they want the celebrations and get-togethers to be just as good as they remember them from childhood.

You know that Thomas Wolfe book, You Can’t Go Home Again? Well, it’s true. 99.9% of the time, you can’t go home again. The holidays won’t ever be like they were when you were a kid because let’s face it: you’re not a kid anymore! You’ve changed, and so has your family.

Make the holidays what you want them to be, right now. Don’t put the bar so high that you make yourself miserable trying to reach it. Be here, now.

9. Don’t Over Indulge
‘Tis the season for holiday buffets, tins of cookies, and tables groaning under Christmas feasts. It’s really, really easy to overindulge during the holidays. Not only does this make us feel guilty, but it also makes our bodies and our minds feel sluggish and bad.

Yes, we need to enjoy the holidays. But don’t go overboard.

Final Word

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you get stressed out over the holidays? Do you like the idea of slowing down this year? If so, what will you be doing to accomplish this?

(Photo credit: paparutzi)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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