10 tips to reduce stress and take care of yourself during the holidays

smiling family and friends sitting at a table and smiling for Christmas dinner

If you find that you are feeling a little more stressed than usual right now, you’re definitely not alone. The American Psychological Association reports that nearly nine in 10 (89%) Americans are experiencing stress or feeling overwhelmed this holiday season.

When we are stressed, we need to be sure we are coping with it in the best ways possible. When stress gets the best of us, we may turn to less healthy means of coping. Here are some ways to make the season less stressful and more fun. 

1. Don’t over schedule yourself

The holiday season is a time of parties and other social gatherings. Remember that you don’t have to do it all. Figure out what you really enjoy versus what you feel you’re supposed to do.

Focus the majority of your energy and time on activities that are fun for you. Do your best to limit or avoid those activities that are less enjoyable. Your happiness is an important consideration in planning how you spend your time.

2. Simplify travel and limit car time

Travel can be especially stressful during the holiday season. If you must travel, do what you can to make it as easy as possible on yourself. Try to get direct flights or at least minimize the number of stops along the way. You’ll avoid the stress of having to rush from one plane to the next or having to wait around for long periods of time.

Many people complain about spending too much time in the car during the holiday season driving from one gathering to the next. This can be exhausting. If possible, limit your driving to one or two events that you truly want to attend. It’s part of setting healthy boundaries and keeping a reasonable schedule.

3. Manage gift giving

For many, the holidays are a time of gift giving. This can be a lot of fun, but it can also be financially stressful. Do your best to make a budget and stay within the spending limits that you have set.

You’re not obligated to spend beyond your means, and you will very likely regret it if you do. Even a small gift lets people know you cherish them. Bigger is not necessarily better. Consider making gifts, instead of buying. Thoughtful handmade gifts and homemade goodies are often appreciated. And the process of preparing them can become a fun holiday tradition for you.

4. Be responsible about food and alcohol consumption

Do your best to stick with healthy eating choices. Moderation is key, especially with holiday treats and alcohol. Many of us succumb to the pressure to overeat or drink to excess during the holidays. Try to stay within your usual guidelines for healthy eating and responsible drinking. Remember to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Read more about bad eating habits: When, what and how often you eat matters

Get 10 tips to limit weight gain this holiday season

5. Enjoy family on your terms

While it can be enjoyable to see family during the holidays, some people find extended family time to be stressful. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. If necessary, take a break from the gathering. Go for a walk. Call someone you enjoy talking to. Take some alone time if you need it.

6. Respect differences

We all have different perspectives on a variety of things. There’s quite a lot that can divide us and bring tension to social gatherings. Do your best to find and focus on our common ground. We are all better off when we seek peace and understanding with one another. If your efforts to maintain harmony are not as effective as you would like in minimizing conflict, setting a clear boundary and/or taking a break from the interaction can be effective ways to reduce negativity.

7. Take time for yourself

Consider giving yourself the gift of time during the holidays. Take a break from the rushing around, the shopping, the cooking, and the cleaning. Set aside time to read a good book, watch your favorite movie, go for a bike ride or take a nap.

Get 7 tips for managing your mental health during the holidays

8. Honor the losses of the year

The holidays can be especially challenging for those of us who have lost loved ones. Be sure to make space for your grief. Consider changing up your traditions to make your feelings of loss more manageable. You can also find a new way to weave in the memory of your loved one into your existing holiday traditions.

9. Don’t forget routine maintenance

Get plenty of sleep. Eat regularly. Exercise. Get a massage. Meditate. Don’t forget to breathe.

Learn 10 health benefits of meditation and how to focus on mindfulness

10. Reach out if you need help

If you know that this time of year is typically hard for you, lean on your friends and family. Talk to them about how you’re feeling and let them help you set boundaries and practice self-care.

While the holiday blues are common for many this time of year, extreme anxiety or depression should not be ignored. If you’re experiencing severe emotional, mental or psychological struggles, talk to your primary care provider. Therapy, counseling, and medication are all useful tools to help manage mental health challenges.

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988 or explore the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

This blog was written by Carol Kirshnit, director of the Academic and Staff Assistance Program at UC Davis Health.

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