Top 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holidays

by Jerry Gold, Ph.D., Scripps Health

The holidays are traditionally times of festive celebration and gatherings with family and friends. Yet they are also notorious for being one of the most stressful times of year. Moreover, it seems like the decorations, advertisements and crowds start earlier each year. The tips below can help you handle or even ward off stress and focus on enjoying the season.

1)  Schedule—but not too much. The holidays can add even more things to do to your already packed calendar, such as buying and wrapping, sending cards and attending work or social events. Use a calendar to plan your commitments so you can actually see where you need to be and when. Remember to schedule in prep time and travel time, as well as extra time in case of traffic or unforeseen delays. This will help minimize the feeling of being rushed or the stress or double-booking your time.

2)  Prioritize. Take a few minutes to decide what is really important. What do you absolutely need to do? What would you like to do? What do you feel you “should” do—even though you really don’t want to? Don’t feel obligated to attend every party you’re invited to or devote an entire evening to dinner. Meet for coffee instead of lunch.

3)  Exercise. Exercise is one of the best stress-busters around. Include exercise time in your schedule and stick to it—even if it is just a 30-minute walk or a yoga DVD.  Get out into nature if you can and enjoy the fresh air; nature has calming benefits as well. Exercise with a friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with and cross two tasks off of your list at once.

4) Go virtual.
It’s great to be able to visit in person, but limited time, conflicting schedules and skyrocketing airfares can make that nearly impossible. Take advantage of technology. Programs such as Skype make it easy to connect with loved ones via video across the country or even around the world for free, so you can open gifts together even if you are thousands of miles apart. Shop online instead of at the mall. Send electronic greeting cards and save paper and postage.

5)  Set aside time for yourself.
Give yourself a break from the commotion and do something unrelated to the holidays for an hour or two. Read or do a crossword puzzle. Play with the dog. Have a family game night.

6)  Remind yourself that this is temporary. The holiday season only happens once a year and only for a few weeks. Traffic and crowds won’t always be this bad, and the constant barrage of holiday ads will subside.

7)  Lighten up. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Every decoration doesn’t have to be hung, and you don’t need to make a homemade feast for every occasion. Allow yourself and everyone else to be human and learn to laugh at mishaps instead of getting upset or angry.

8)  Do something for someone else. Buy or make gifts for a family in need, write to a member of the military overseas, or bring the kids to volunteer at a children’s hospital. It’s hard to feel anxious and uptight when you are doing something good for someone.

9)  Find your personal meaning in the holiday season.  The holidays can be a special time to celebrate your accomplishments, reflect on your goals and envision your future. Use the time to reflect on what you’re thankful for, what you want to celebrate for yourself and for others, and what you want to teach your children and loved ones about the holidays. It does not have to be about material things. It can be about those non-tangible things that give peace and comfort and reflect the essence of humanity.

10)  Breathe. When you feel overwhelmed or find yourself getting tense or anxious, take a few minutes to focus only on your breathing. Take several deep breaths, counting five seconds in, and five seconds out. This deep, deliberate breathing automatically short-circuits the stress response in your body, slows your heart rate, and allows you to get back to a calmer state. Plus, you can do it anywhere, any time.

Jerry Gold, Ph.D., is Administrator, Scripps Behavioral Health Clinical Care Line. For more information, please call 1-800-SCRIPPS (1-800-727-4777). 

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