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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Nack

How to handle holiday stress

December is the time of year when many people are seeing their families. This can bring joy and connection to some, elicit stress and negative emotions for others, and for many it can be a mix of both. While some people may choose to not see certain family members, many people will be interacting with others who they don't necessarily get along with. Even if you love your family the holidays can be stressful due to more time, effort, and/or mental energy going into planning for and participating in holiday events and activities. The holidays may also be an isolating time for people who will be spending them alone. You may find yourself feeling more agitated, being quicker to anger, or maybe even wanting to isolate yourself. If this sounds familiar, you are certainly not alone. Have you ever thought that maybe there is a way to get through this holiday season without so much stress? Does it feel realistic or achievable to you? Stress is not always unavoidable, but that does not mean it has to be unmanageable.

Some stress may be necessary while other stress may not be necessary. Are there any stressors in your life that you could eliminate this holiday season to make the necessary stress easier to manage? Other options are practicing mindfulness, meditation, doing deep breathing, making sure those basic needs are met like sleep, hydration, and nutrition, participating in hobbies or activities, going to therapy, or seeking social support. Situations that may elicit more stress may have the following characteristics: High demand, low control, not many choices, not feeling prepared or equipped, feeling judgment from others, unpredictability, and high risk for consequences or failure ("An overview of stress management," 2018). Does any of that sound familiar to you?

When dealing specifically with family or relational stress, it can be helpful to know what your own signs are that you are getting stressed. Some signs could be that you become quick to anger, become forgetful, have poorer concentration, or even that you are fidgeting or picking at something. It can be helpful to bring others in to help you recognize what those signs are and point them out to you. In this way you can recognize when you may need to step outside or do something to calm yourself back down before the stress becomes overwhelming. It is also important to accept your feelings for what they are. Ignoring or trying to change them may even increase the amount of stress you feel. Another helpful tip is to only focus your energy towards what you can control and let go of the rest. It is much easier said than done, but when the stress becomes too much, something has to give. Having compassion and understanding that your emotions and reactions around this time of year make sense, and that it is okay to give yourself grace is helpful ("Strategies to cope with family stress," 2020).

Mindfulness is a huge benefit to people who are stressed as it has been shown to reduce the body’s stress response. One meta-analysis study that looked at the neurobiological effects of meditation, which is a way to practice mindfulness, and it was found that meditation reduced systolic blood pressure, cortisol, and heart rate (Pascoe et al., 2017, pp. 156-178). If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, check out our article about it on our blog. In short, It involves allowing oneself to experience reality without suppressing, avoiding, or trying to change it. This often involves a focus on present bodily sensations. People may do deep breathing and pay attention to how their body feels as they do it. Routinely participating in mindfulness could help you get through the holidays with less stress and overwhelm. Do you think any of these tips will help you this holiday season?


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