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Holiday Stress

Bev Gravdahl, Project Coordinator

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.  – Matthew 6:34

The holiday season often brings unwanted stress and extra demands, including parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few. Some people are worried about holiday bills or how to survive Christmas after a recent loss, such as a divorce, death in the family or a layoff from a job.  What can we do to rid ourselves of these stressors? Perhaps we need to take a simpler approach to the holidays as a soul-satisfying celebration. 

Think back to last December not including Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  Did you spend more, about the same, or less, happy relaxed time with your family in December, compared to other months?  If your answer was “less” look through the following list for some suggestions and practical tips to minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you recently has died or you can't be with loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.
  2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  3. Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect.  As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can't come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Here are some alternatives:
    1. Donate to a charity in someone's name.
    2. Give homemade gifts.
    3. Start a family gift exchange.
  6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That will help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
  7. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity. If saying “no” is not possible when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  8. Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.
    1. Have a healthful snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
    2. Get plenty of sleep.
    3. Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.
  9. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
  10. Be good to yourself!  Make some time for yourself.  Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do (take a walk, listen to soothing music, get a massage, read a book….).


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Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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