By Dr. Mercola
The holidays are supposed to be one of the most joyous times of the year, and surveys show that the majority of Americans do feel positive emotions like happiness, love, and high spirits often during this season.1
On the other hand, emotions of all kinds are increased, and this includes negative feelings like anxiety, grief, and stress.
Many people report increased stress during the holidays as they try to pull together the “perfect” holiday for their families, which often means balancing work and social obligations with shopping, decorating, cooking, cleaning, wrapping, and baking.
Financial pressures also tend to peak at this time of year, as do worries over having enough money to purchase gifts without running up credit card debt. Even worries related to work, including wrapping up year-end projects or getting enough time off, run high during the holiday season.
Who Faces the Most Stress During the Holidays?
A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) revealed that for most Americans, stress tends to increase rather than decrease during the holidays. A lack of time, a lack of money, and excessive commercialism are all common reasons for extra holiday stress.
The survey also found that women and lower-middle-income individuals are particularly vulnerable to holiday stress. The APA noted:2
“Holiday stress has a particular impact on women, who take charge of many of the holiday celebrations, particularly the tasks related to preparing meals and decorating the home. Women are more likely than men to report an increase of stress during the holiday season.
In addition, they have a harder time relaxing during the holidays and are more likely to fall into bad habits to manage their stress, like comfort eating.
Holiday stress has an impact on lower middle income individuals. This group feels the weight of stress from work plus the seasonal rush to find time to get everything done. In addition, their worries about money are heightened by the commercialism of the season and the pressure to spend a lot of money.”
What’s the Point of a Holiday Celebration if You Don’t Enjoy It?
All of the hype and preparations surrounding the holidays can make it feel like one more “chore” that has to be dealt with. If your holiday morphs into the “chore” category, then really, what’s the point?
When you find yourself getting caught up in anxious thoughts about how you’ll get everything done, stop and remember that most people say spending time with their family and friends is what they look forward to most about the holidays.3 This season should not be about stress… it should be about relaxing and sharing good times with those you love.
Learn to Relax Your Breathing
One of the best, and simplest, ways to calm your nerves when you’re feeling tense or anxious is to practice more mindful breathing. Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which induces the relaxation response.
There are many different breathing practices that you can try, but here, I’m going to share two that are both powerful and very easy to perform. The first one I learned when I attended a presentation by Dr. Andrew Weil at the 2009 Expo West in California.
Putting the Holidays Into Perspective
Perhaps more than anything, the key to enjoying and relaxing during the holidays may lie in the way you perceive them. Adjusting your attitude and your expectations can help turn an otherwise stressful holiday into a relaxing one. So when stress threatens to take over the show, here are a few more tips that can help you keep your sense of balance and calm during the holidays:
- Be gentle on yourself, and give yourself permission to say “No.” It really is okay to take special time for yourself. If the holidays have you feeling down for whatever reason, indulge in the things that make you feel happy, whether they’re holiday related or not.
- Seek out positive people who make you feel better, and avoid people who add to your stress or contribute to your depression.
- Regain a sense of control by scheduling no more than one or two manageable goals per day, even if they’re as simple as writing a few cards or cleaning a small section of a room. The satisfaction of completing these tasks can add to your sense of well-being and help you get everything done, over a longer period of time.
- If a certain tradition causes more stress and discomfort than joy, give yourself permission to do things differently! Remind yourself that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas. Ban the word “should.”
- Focus on what you and your family want to do for the holidays instead of what other families are doing.
- Take advantage of online shopping instead of rushing through malls, make homemade gifts, or give gifts of service, such as volunteering or cooking meals.
- If the thought of cooking Christmas dinner gives you a headache, arrange to have friends and family over to help you cook ahead of time or hold a potluck dinner instead.
- Make a concerted effort to realign the focus of the holiday to reflect your spiritual or ethical beliefs rather than commercial values. You may need to discuss how you and your family will do this, as it can take many forms depending on your beliefs.