Eight Tips to Lower Holiday Stress

The holidays are a magical time for most of us! We might celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or another traditional celebration, and keep up the festivities right through to New Year’s Day. We enjoy the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of the season, and spend time with our family and other loved ones.

What’s your favorite ingredient of the holidays? The lights? Decorations? Music? Food? Opening gifts and reuniting with loved ones? Nobody is going to name “stress” as their favorite feature of the holidays! But for sure, the holidays can be a stressful time. All the extra shopping, cooking, traveling and entertaining can stretch our schedule to the max. Often, there are end-of-the-year tasks to wrap up at our work. And for family members who are providing care for senior parents, a spouse who is living with health challenges, or another loved one who needs help, balancing it all can be even more stressful.

Here are some suggestions for reducing the pressure and truly enjoying this festive time of year.

Don’t book yourself too heavily. Which activities and events are the most meaningful and pleasurable to you and your family? Learn to say no to those parties, gift exchanges and events that aren’t really important.

Focus more on the connections and rituals of the holidays than on purchasing gifts. If crowds and frantic shoppers stress you out, the last place you want to be during the last month of the year is a crowded mall! Leave enough time that you can order gifts online without worrying that they won’t arrive in time. Better yet, talk to other adult family members about their thoughts on holiday gifts. Maybe it’s time for a new tradition.

To opt out of that last-minute mall battle, and to avoid overspending out of desperation, start your shopping early. Keep an eye out for holiday gifts all year long. If you’re shopping in July and see “just the thing for Aunt Caroline,” go ahead and buy it. Chances are you won’t find something as perfect when you’re down to the wire. (But be sure to keep gifts where you won’t forget them — and keep a list of what you’ve purchased.)

Ask for help! If you are hosting holiday events in your home, guests will most likely be happy to help out. Can Cousin Grace bring her famous cranberry sauce? Would your grandson bring a pecan pie from that wonderful bakery on his block? Could someone stay with Mom while you spend an afternoon shopping?

The traditional holiday family reunion can be stressful if “old material” and family friction come to the surface. This year might be worse — many families are already reporting that political skirmishes broke out over the Thanksgiving table. Be aware of the possibility, and enlist others to help defuse stressful situations. Remember, the holidays are about sharing meaningful time with family and friends.

Watch what you eat and drink. Overeating or drinking too much alcohol can sap your strength. Fill up with veggies and a salad before taking helpings of richer, heavier foods.

Get some exercise. Rather than lounging on the couch while you catch up on all the news since last year’s gathering, plan a brisk family walk instead.

If you are a family caregiver, talk to your guests ahead of time to let them know what you need and how you plan to adapt the celebration so it’s meaningful for your loved one, as well. Most people are more than happy to help. If your loved one’s condition has changed quite a bit due to memory loss or another health challenge, talk to guests ahead of time so they’ll be more comfortable. Seeing your loved one included and enjoying the festivities might be the best anti-stress remedy of all!

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