Some people seem to thrive during the holiday season. They walk around glowing, as if work has suddenly become easier, family has become kinder, and money in the bank has doubled. You know, the way we’re told it’s supposed to be.
Holidays can certainly have a positive effect. Many people feel inspired to treat themselves and the ones they love, and to make resolutions to improve their lives.
But for others, holidays are exactly the opposite. You have to run around crowded shopping malls finding the right gifts for people who themselves don’t know what they want. You watch as your optimistic budget disappears into the distance. The prospect of everyone in your family asking you what you've done with your life in the past year becomes terrifying.
This is a sponsored guest post from Haley Neidich at Thrivetalk. To learn more, please visit our Disclosure Policy.
I’m glad to say it’s not all bad. The oft-cited statistic that suicides peak around December is false, with the holiday season generally having the lowest suicide rates. A lot of people are genuinely happier during this time.
That doesn’t negate the stress you're going through, but it is good to remember that it doesn’t have to be this way. You too can minimize the stress and maximize the positivity, even when life is far from perfect.
To help you out, here are some stress management tips for this holiday season.
If you feel your stress has gotten out of hand, be sure to also consult with a mental health professional near you.
Maintain A Routine
It’s tempting to make the most of your time off during the festive season. You're probably coming home from work a little earlier, and you've got automatic days off. You may be putting in some of your leave as well.
For many people, time off work correlates with time spent doing little to nothing. Waking up late, staying home, and watching more TV. There’s nothing wrong with this. You deserve it, right?
You absolutely deserve it! But deep down, you don’t necessarily believe that. Guilt and anxiety are feelings that commonly accompany unproductive periods of time. Your mind is constantly telling you you've dropped the ball and forgotten to do something. You worry that you're eating more than usual and not getting enough exercise.
The solution to this is not to work through the holiday season. Not taking breaks from work or studies is another kind of unhealthy entirely. Rather, try maintaining a routine. This routine can be very different from your normal routine. Instead of waking up at six in the morning, wake up at nine. Instead of spending your whole day at a desk, spend an hour or two on productive activity. Set aside time for your holiday responsibilities such as gift-shopping and preparation for family meals.
Maybe even add in some time for another kind of productivity altogether – effective self-care. Take yourself to a spa or practice meditation. Do something you've always wanted to find time for.
Keeping a routine will stave off some of the holiday guilt, and it will help you keep a handle on your responsibilities, minimizing your stress and anxiety.
Part of your holiday routine should be dedicated to exercise. Exercise makes you feel better physically and mentally, and is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. It’s best if you prioritize it throughout the year, but it becomes especially important during the holiday season. One common stressors people identify during the holidays is that it’s hard to stay healthy. People who don’t usually drink or smoke find themselves drinking or smoking too much. People who usually stick to strict diets find themselves binging on junk foods.
There’s nothing wrong with letting yourself go a little bit during the holiday season. If you don’t have a problem with alcohol, then drinking can be fun and even relaxing. If you don’t have health problems or weight, eating some junk food is probably not going to hurt too much.
However, you are likely to feel a little worse physically and that can bring on more guilt and anxiety. Keeping to a consistent exercise plan can alleviate some of this. It will make your body feel better, give you that sense of productivity you crave, and release endorphins which improve your mental health.
Identify (And Talk About) Distressing Emotions
Sometimes, the stress of the holiday season is not connected to what needs to get done or feeling like you're letting yourself down. It may have to do with something else entirely. Holidays bring up a lot of nostalgia, and that affects people in different ways.
For those who have had distressing holidays in the past, the present holiday season can bring up unresolved feelings. Maybe there were Decembers you felt particularly isolated or depressed, or even experienced a trauma. When this time of year comes around again, your mind goes right back to those experiences.
People who have lost loved ones or ended long relationships, recently or in the past, also often feel strong emotions over the holiday season. You vividly remember previous years spent with your loved ones, and you miss them more than ever. This can also lead to homesickness for those living far from where they grew up or where their family lives.
If you're feeling sad and you don’t know why, try to identify where these distressing emotions are coming from. Talk it over with a loved one or therapist. Speaking to a therapist is particularly important if you have unresolved traumas or crises that come up again and again each year.
When you're missing someone, it can also be helpful to speak about them with other people who were in their lives. Reminisce on what you miss about them and allow yourself to be sad. Don’t hesitate to call loved ones who are still in your life to tell them you're missing them.
Be Kind To Yourself
The pressure to be happy during the holiday season can be distressing in and of itself. Remember that you're not the only one experiencing conflicting emotions. A lot of people are stressed out, sad, and wistful. Be kind to yourself and give your feelings the attention they deserve.
The holiday season isn’t always easy. Recognizing that you don’t need to constantly feel happy is the first step to making the most of what can be a poignant time of the year.
Haley Neidich, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and the Senior Director of Clinical Development for ThriveTalk.com, an online therapy company helping to serve Mamas around the world.