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Holiday Stress? Try Our Top 12 Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season

The holidays often provide a wonderful opportunity to pause, reflect, and take a breath as another year winds down. However, a survey of 2,000 adults found that the holiday season is actually making most Americans tenser. In fact, 77% of respondents reported that they have difficulty relaxing during this time of year and are more stressed.

What exactly is stressing most of us out? The holiday season brings additional financial strains, according to 56% of respondents. Additionally, 48% of respondents mentioned finding gifts for everyone, 35% reported stressful family events, and 29% mentioned decorating.

Also according to the survey, many (67% of respondents) feel they have to produce a "perfect" holiday every year, and almost half (47%) admit taking on too much each year.

Other eye-opening statistics? 43% of people report that scheduling gets incredibly hectic during the holidays, and 59% say that they have a chaotic holiday season.

Overall, 88% of respondents describe the holidays as the most stressful time of the year.

If you feel stressed out during the holidays, then try the following twelve tips to have a healthy and enjoyable holiday season.

1. Clearly picture the holiday you want to have.

“Set expectations for yourself and others by painting a picture of what you want your Christmas,” or whatever holiday you celebrate, “to look like, advises Dr. John Delony, a mental health expert with two PhDs in counselor education and supervision. “Who’s sitting around the table at mealtime? What are you all eating? What are you talking about—or not talking about? Are you laughing with your kids as you make Santa-shaped pancakes? Or are you holding hands with your spouse in front of the fire? Maybe you dusted off the old vinyl Christmas album, and you’re jamming away.”

“Whatever it is, keep that picture at the front of your mind,” adds Dr. Delony. “Share your picture with your loved ones so they can understand where you’re coming from. Ask them to paint a picture of what they want too so you can choose to honor them.”

How would you cope with something that threatens to distract you from what's really important? Allow yourself to say no. “Let your calendar and to-do list reflect your picture of Christmas that you want to experience,” he says.

2. Keep up healthy habits.

During the holidays, make a promise to yourself to maintain healthy habits. For example, make a pledge to be physically active every day until the end of the year. This could be something as simple as going for a walk. You should, however, commit to even more healthy habits like eating a healthy breakfast, limiting sweets and alcohol, making time for self-care, and getting a solid seven hours of sleep every night.

Maintaining healthy habits, even during the holiday season, isn’t always easy. It is, however, one of your best defenses against stress.

3. Take control of your schedule.

“You don’t have to accept every invitation, writes Elana Premack Sandler L.C.S.W., M.P.H in Psychology Today. “You can leave parties early. You can bring a friend or an object of comfort. You can go to the work party and aim to talk to two people instead of 20.” And, if everyone is leaving early, you should leave early, too.

4. Set aside differences.

Despite the fact that you expect a lot from family and friends, accept them as they are. If you do have any grievances, though, try to discuss them at a more appropriate time.

You should also be understanding of others if they get upset or distressed. There is a very good chance that they're also experiencing holiday stress and depression.

5. Accept imperfection.

Sometimes, good is enough.

“As we gear up for the holidays, we often set the bar impossibly high for ourselves and then feel upset when our celebrations don’t live up to expectations,” says Neda Gould, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, and director of the Johns Hopkins Mindfulness Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Consider the possibility that things might not go as planned before you start preparing. “It’s OK if it’s not perfect. Imperfection is healthy and normal. For some of us, it might just take a little practice,” reminds Gould.

6. Reach out.

During the holiday season, feelings of loneliness and isolation can worsen despite what may seem like a flurry of social activity. Take part in your community in a variety of ways, such as volunteering, or being in frequent communication with the people you care about.

Also, your friends and family can offer you support and assistance if you need it, whether on an emotional or physical level, like if you get overwhelmed with holiday shopping. You could also send an email to a few specifically chosen people if you need extra volunteers or assistance with your annual holiday party.

7. Make a holiday budget -- and stick to it.

“A budget is creating boundaries for your wallet (or bank account),” Dr. Delony states. “And budgeting helps reduce stress because it gives you a plan for your money.” He suggests that you develop “a zero-based budget every month before the month begins.”

“Remember, you get to control your thoughts and actions—including your spending,” he adds. “You get to decide where every single dollar in your bank account goes. Budgeting for Christmas will help you avoid the impulse purchases or spending too much on those white elephant gifts.”

Is there anything more discouraging than waking up with no idea where your paycheck is after the holidays? Set yourself up with a budget and follow it.

8. Plan ahead.

Establish dedicated shopping, baking, and socializing days. If shopping online is an option, consider it as this can save you time and avoid crowds. Even if you don’t have items shipped to your house, you could order your groceries online so that everything is ready for you to pick-up

Another suggestion is to make a shopping list before selecting your menu. This will keep you from having to buy forgotten ingredients at the last minute. And, don’t forget to ask for help preparing meals and cleaning up afterward as well.

9. Respond with kindness.

During the holiday season, you cannot control how others behave. You can, however, control the way you react:

  • “Whenever I encounter a difficult person, I tell myself, ‘this person is suffering, and that’s why they’re acting this way.’ It softens my frustration, helps me be more compassionate, and reminds me that it’s not personal,” says Gould.

  • For those who are alone, the holidays can be particularly difficult. Please consider extending an act of kindness to those who may be without family and friends during this season.

  • Take a few deep breaths if you find yourself getting tense with someone. “Those few breaths can shift things and give you a new perspective,” notes Gould.

10. Take a walk outside.

In addition to being an easy source of exercise when your schedule seems packed, winter walks can help you fight seasonal affective disorder by releasing serotonin and improving your mood. In addition, walking has the effect of calming and improving sleep because of the rhythm and repetition of walking.

11. Do something for yourself.

“This is a season of giving, in all ways, except one: We give outward, but not inward,” adds Sandler. “What would it look like to do something just for yourself between now and the new year? What is something that you have wanted but haven’t allowed yourself to do?”

“Whether it’s something small (a new pair of shoes!), something in-between (donating that chair that you’ve had for a decade, but don’t like anymore), or something bigger (taking an art class), taking the time to do something that is just for you can help replenish you at a time when you may feel drained.”

12. If you need it, seek out professional help.

It’s possible to feel persistently depressed, anxious, irritable, hopeless, and incapable of performing routine tasks, despite your best efforts. It is recommended that you speak to your doctor or a mental health professional if this feeling lasts for a while.

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