Between putting up decorations, sending out Christmas cards, shopping for the perfect gifts, baking cookies, attending school singalongs and holiday parties, traveling to visit family, hosting guests and money woes, ’tis the season for holiday stress.
I don’t know about you, but feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and anxious aren’t what the holidays are about, despite what society tells us.
For me, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and the holidays are meant for family.
While I know there are to-do’s that have to get done, like buying my kids’ gifts, there are other tasks that are actually negotiable, can be done a different way, can be handed off to someone else, or done away with entirely. And that my friends, is the key to beating holiday stress. 😀
But first, let’s take a look at how many of us feel stressed out this time of year…
HOLIDAY STRESS STATISTICS
It turns out holiday stress is a big issue.
According to a 2018 survey, 88 percent of people say they feel stressed when celebrating the holidays.
When it comes to our relationships, the average couple will have at least 7 arguments this holiday season, the same survey found.
Of course, money is also a big stressor. According to the 2019 Bankrate Holiday Gifting Survey, 6 out of 10 people say they feel pressure to overspend on presents, travel, social gatherings, and charitable donations.
And if you think you’re more stressed than your partner, you are (no surprise, right?).
According to a report by the American Psychological Association (APA), 44 percent of women (versus 31 percent of men) say they have more stress during the holiday season.
WHAT CAUSES HOLIDAY STRESS?
Holiday stress can be very individual but the most common sources include:
- Shopping for gifts
- Money concerns
- Preparing for house guests
- Family dynamics
- Conversations about politics, religion and money
Traveling to visit family is also another source of holiday stress.
A recent survey found that people who travel to see family during the holidays need a break from their extended families after about 4 hours. What’s more, while 95 percent say it’s important to spend time with them, 40 percent of those who will be staying with family admit that it’s stressful.
HOLIDAY STRESS AFFECTS YOUR HEALTH
No one wants to experience stress of course, but it can take a toll on your health.
Holiday stress can lead to fatigue, irritability, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and anxiety and depression.
Although cookies and desserts tempt us everywhere we turn this time of year, holiday stress can also make it tough to eat healthy and it can lead to emotional eating.
Stress can also prevent you from making healthy choices like getting to the gym and making time for self-care, and it can affect your relationship with your partner and your sex life.
When you’re stressed out, sleep can also be hard to come by. According to a recent survey by Mattress Advisor, 64 percent of people say they sleep less than 8 hours a day during the holidays. The quality of their sleep suffered too: on a scale of one to ten, 74 percent said they rate their holiday sleep quality as seven or lower.
HOW TO COPE WITH HOLIDAY STRESS
The good news is that you don’t have to let stress get the best of you this year. Here are 10 ways to cope.
1. Eat healthy when you’re not celebrating the holidays
Although this time of year can make it challenging to prepare healthy meals, grabbing fast food and take-out, and snacking on sugary treats will leave you feeling depleted, anxious and even more stressed out.
Instead, keep your kitchen stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, healthy fats like avocado and whole grains like quinoa.
Pre-portion smoothie ingredients, keep cut up fruits and veggies in clear containers in the refrigerator, and keep healthy snacks on hand like hummus, nuts and seeds and Greek yogurt.
2. Get the whole family moving
To help combat stress and manage everyone’s moods, carve out time most days of the week to do something active.
If you’re willing to venture out into the cold, go for a brisk walk with your kids or have a game of catch in the backyard.
If the cold isn’t your thing, have an indoor dance party or play a game of Twister.
3. Prioritize sleep
Irregular schedules and later-than-usual bedtimes can throw everyone in the family off schedule.
Without enough sleep, you and your kids will be more irritable and more likely to reach for food and make unhealthy food choices.
In fact, an August 2018 study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that kids who regularly fell asleep after 11pm were 2 to 3 times more likely to eat junk food at least 5 times a week.
Although it may not always be feasible to get you and your kids to bed on time every night, do your best to make a sleep a priority as much as possible.
Also, practice good sleep hygiene: put away the devices 1 to 2 hours before bed because the blue light they emit can make it hard to fall asleep. Also, keep bedrooms cool and wind down with a book, prayer or soothing music.
4. Take a break
To manage holiday stress, make sure you carve out time for intentional relaxation and take a break from the busyness of the season.
5. SAY “NO”
Although buying presents for your kids has to get done for example, there are so many other things that might seem like obligations but that you can actually say “no” to.
While I can aspire to make a variety of cookies for my kids’ bus drivers, teachers and administrators, and Sunday school teachers, I’ve decided instead to make only one or two types of quick and easy treats like coconut macaroons and Christmas bark.
It’s also a good idea to avoid over scheduling your kids with extras.
Do you really have to go see the Nutcracker? Is it imperative that you have holiday photos taken?
Probably not, so just say “no.”
6. OUTSOURCE YOUR LIST
As moms, we’re often expected to do it all, but that doesn’t mean we have to.
Of all the tasks on your list, there are those that:
- You tell yourself you should do or you feel pressured to do
- You’re capable of doing but don’t want to do
- Actually bring you joy during the holiday season
While there are some tasks you may have to do yourself, there are those that you can delegate or outsource.
For example, a few years ago, I decided sending Christmas cards wasn’t worth all of my time and energy.
It was however, important to my husband, so he took it over.
Every year, he picks out the card and the photos, addresses them and sends them off. It may not be the design or photos I would have chosen, but letting it go means I won’t be so stressed out.
It can be hard to hand over certain tasks to our partners, but it is possible to find opportunities for them to help out.
Perhaps it’s wrapping gifts, going grocery shopping or making a Target run for stocking stuffers.
Accepting that done is better than perfect can be freeing.
If getting your spouse to help out isn’t going to happen, think about other people who can.
Depending on their ages, kids can seal and put stamps on cards or wrap presents for their grandparents, for example.
7. LET GO OF PERFECTION
There’s perhaps no other time of year that conjures up perfection in us like the holidays.
We’re inundated with messages about finding the perfect presents, putting up perfect, Pinterest-worthy holiday decorations, making Instagram-worthy cookies, having a perfect holiday and making perfect memories.
The truth is that all of our striving for perfection not only sets us up for disappointment because it’s not realistic, but studies show it can lead to anxiety and depression.
So this year, let go of perfection—whatever that looks like for you.
8. DO GOOD
The holiday season is a time of giving, whether of our time, money or both.
Although volunteering and making charitable donations are worthy causes and make us feel good, it’s easy to to overcommit and feel stretched thin, or surprised when the credit card bill come in.
It’s important to think about what’s realistic for your family.
So although you may want to head up the charity drive in your kid’s school, you may have to take on a smaller role like donating toys or baking brownies instead.
9. LISTEN TO MUSIC
When I’m feeling stressed out, I put on music, whether it’s Christian worship music, 80’s, or Top 40 because research shows, music eases anxiety.
According to a May 2018 meta-analysis in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, music is an effective way to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety and pain in people undergoing a biopsy.
10. REACH OUT
Connecting with other moms who get it can make all the difference in managing holiday stress.
If your stress level feels overwhelming and it’s affecting other areas of your life and your eating and sleeping habits for example, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you and there’s no shame in asking for help.
Ask your primary care provider for a referral to a psychologist, LCSW or counselor.