Welcome to the holiday season! As the song goes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! What the song doesn’t mention is that the holidays can also be the most stressful time of the year. The shopping, the traffic, the potential family drama—all this can lead to pressure, anxiety, and even loneliness.
Is holiday stress different from regular stress? No, not really. They both occur when we experience the strain and tension that are borne out of challenging circumstances.
Although some daily stress is normal, being in a state of chronic stress can negatively affect our physical and mental health. In fact, a 2015 Healthline survey reported that about 44% of Americans experience stress over the holidays.
Here are 5 common holiday stressors and some tips to deal with them.
1. Your family doesn't respect your boundaries.
Many people feel pressure to spend time with family during the holidays, even if they don’t have a good relationship. In a recent survey, 25% of U.S. adults reported feeling “very worried” or “extremely worried” about spending time with family this holiday.
Consider sending out an email and clarify that you are not willing to talk about specific things
So, instead of expecting your family to miraculously have changed, take this opportunity to improve your communication and coping skills. Practice “killing them with kindness.” Rather than blowing up at your cousin for spilling the coffee, or your aunt for knocking over the reindeer you have so lovingly displayed on your mantel, take a deep breath, count to five, and smile.
Set some boundaries before you get together. Consider sending out an email and clarify that you are not willing to talk about specific things like politics, COVID-19, or Aunt Sally’s new husband.
Of course, if your family is abusive, toxic, or unhealthy, you may decide that getting together just isn’t the best thing to do.
2. You have unrealistic expectations.
I don’t know about you all, but every holiday seems to bring higher expectations than the previous year. Whether it’s how over-the-top decorations should be, how many parties to throw or attend, or what the holiday menu should be, if there’s one thing about the holidays that can stress us out, it’s unrealistic expectations.
Life is stressful enough. Why do you need to be an overachiever during the holidays? Well, the answer is “You don’t.”
Consider challenging your expectations. Are they realistic? Things will go wrong, someone will bring the wrong dish, get the wrong present, or bring up family gossip even though you asked them not to. Identifying your expectations beforehand can help you let go of the ones that are unrealistic before you are let down and become resentful.
3. You've overcommitted.
Since many of us have been “sheltering in place” for the better part of the past 2 years, you may find yourself accepting every invitation to holiday parties, gatherings, and get-togethers. Perhaps, you even decided to host a gathering.
As tempting as it is to say “yes” to every event that comes your way, you probably shouldn’t. There may be that nagging voice that says you can’t disappoint your friend, co-worker, or loved one, but I assure you—you can.
For many of us, saying “no” to someone is the equivalent of using a four-letter word. But, in the end, remember: if you aren’t fully committed to an event or a person, aren’t you doing them a disservice? It may be worth it to leave a little bit of room on your calendar, for say, YOU!
4. You can't stop shopping.
We all want to find the perfect holiday gift for our special someone, but some of us (yes, me too) tend to overspend during the holidays.
Apparently, I am not alone. According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers plan to spend about $1,000 on themselves and their families this year. And 31% said they have had to tap into emergency savings to pay for holiday expenses.
Whether it’s dining out more, spending more on holiday gifts than we anticipated, or traveling to visit family or friends, there’s no denying it, overspending can be stressful.
I know, everyone says to set a budget, but let’s get real, that may not work. Instead, think about how you’re going to feel in January. Visualize yourself checking your bank balance or credit card statement. Remember, you have control over your thoughts and actions which includes your spending.
5. Loneliness is amplified.
The holidays can be one of the loneliest times of the year. Because it seems that everyone has someone, it can highlight a lack of social connections or family relationships. If you live by yourself or if your family does not live nearby, consider upping communication. Try a weekly telephone conversation or video call.
Volunteering to help someone else in need is also a great way to combat loneliness. Since loneliness can be a personal view, focusing outwards can give you purpose and connection.
Whatever it is that’s stressing you out over the holidays, remember, there are always solutions. Stress is a normal part of daily life, but avoiding or not responding to it can lead to bigger problems. So, sit back, take a deep breath, keep calm and merry on!