Happy and stressed: how to relax and enjoy the holidays

November 18, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

The holiday season can be a two-sided coin.

On one side there’s holiday cheer, family gatherings, love and happiness. On the other, stress, depression, anxiety. And very often you can feel both — holiday cheer and stress or anxiety.

One survey by the American Psychological Association found that 38 percent of those contacted reported increased stress levels during the holidays with commercialism, lack of time, lack of money and family gatherings among the causes.

The survey also found that while many people responded that they felt happy and were in high spirits over the holidays, they also experienced stress, irritability and sadness.

“With the holidays we can get ourselves in trouble because we start taking on more than we’re able to manage,” says Megan Walsh, LCPC, with Linden Oaks Behavioral Health. “We’ll set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and when we fail to meet those, we turn around and we just beat up on ourselves.”

To reduce holiday stress and anxiety try some of these tips:

  • Practice self-compassion. “You don’t have to be perfect,” Walsh says. “Things are not perfect; that’s impossible.” This can apply to all aspects of the holidays — whether it’s chatting with people at an office party or holiday gift exchanges. Recognize that no one expects perfection from you and simply enjoy the moment. Smile and chat with your co-worker instead of worrying if you’re saying the right thing. Put up your favorite decorations and don’t worry if they aren’t perfect.
  • Recognize it’s acceptable to say no. We can overbook and overspend at the holidays if we’re not careful. Spend some time with your calendar and checkbook before the holiday season kicks into full gear and establish a game plan for your schedule and spending. Taking the time to plan — and setting some realistic goals — will help make the holidays more enjoyable and a bit less stressful.
  • Embrace differences, or at least practice accepting them. “Holidays can sometimes mean dysfunctional family time,” Walsh notes. Realizing you can only control your own thoughts and actions and that you can’t change others is the first step toward getting through those moments. “You have to step away from that ‘emotional center’ and almost analytically observe things like you’re watching a parade or a movie,” Walsh says. The second step is realizing your own worth, and that accepting others doesn’t open the door for them to abuse you. If necessary, set boundaries on what you will or won’t tolerate from relatives. If things become tense, have a plan — maybe it’s excusing yourself and going for a walk, stepping away to wash your face, deep breathing or, if necessary, leaving early.
  • Allow some time for you. With a busy holiday schedule, it can be easy to let taking care of yourself take a back seat. But, time to relax can be the best gift you give yourself to get through the holiday season with less stress. Getting enough rest, staying hydrated, exercising and eating healthy can help give you the energy you need for shopping trips, holiday parties or traveling and help keep stress at bay. Practicing gratitude also can help put you in a better mindset during the holidays.
  • Reach out — and that works both ways, whether you are the one dealing with depression or anxiety or if you notice someone who is. If you’re struggling, it’s okay to let people know you need help. If it becomes severe and you notice changes in your ability to function, talk to your primary care doctor or contact a counselor. On the flip side, if you notice a friend or family member struggling, don’t hesitate talk to them about it. “You might say something like ‘I noticed you’ve been really down and I’m worried about you,’” Walsh says.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, we can help. Learn more about Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

Related blogs:

Dealing with grief at the holidays

Your survival plan for family drama at the holidays

Give thanks all year, you’ll be a lot happier

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