The holiday season is a time of celebration. We gather, enjoy, cook, connect, reflect and share in the joy that was the year past. However, the holidays can also cause anxiety – the hustle and bustle of shopping, financial stress, social gatherings, the dog knocking over the tree to get to the candy canes. The demands and unforeseen stresses of the holiday season can take a toll on our mental wellbeing. This year, prioritize your mental health and make the most of high notes with mental preparation for the holidays so you can navigate the season with peace and joy.
Understanding Holiday-related Stress
Before we dive into ways to mentally prepare for the holidays, let’s take a look at the common stressors that often accompany this time of year. Some pressures that might leave us feeling like a royal scrooge include:
- Financial stress: The pressure to buy gifts, host gatherings, and travel can strain our budgets.
- Time constraints: Balancing work, family commitments, and holiday activities can become overwhelming.
- Family dynamics: As the old adage goes, “You can choose your friends, but not your family.” Spending extended time with family members, although joyous, can sometimes lead to conflicts or emotional triggers.
- Social expectations: Meeting cultural or social expectations can add pressure to the holiday experience.
- Loneliness and grief: For those who have experienced loss or who are far from family and friends, the holidays can leave us feeling sad and alone.
- Changes in seasons: Shorter, colder days can leave us feeling more gloomy than normal, despite holiday cheer.
Holiday-related stress can take its toll on our mental wellbeing. Make sure to check in with yourself and those around you as the holidays ramp up. Keep these signs of mental stress in mind:
- Irritability or impatience
- Difficulty engaging in social settings
- Feeling depressed
- Unable to enjoy yourself
- Feeling detached or removed
- Avoiding family or friends
The Benefits of Mental Preparation for the Holidays
Mentally preparing for the holidays is about creating a sense of resilience and emotional wellbeing. It’s an opportunity to find ways to reduce stress, enhance your enjoyment of the season, and ensure the holidays leave you with happy memories. Below are some tips and strategies for mentally preparing for the upcoming holidays.
Self-reflection and Goal Setting
- Identify personal triggers: Take some time for self-reflection and identify the specific holiday stressors that affect you most. Does a certain relative send your temper soaring? Will spending all day cooking a turkey raise your stress level? Knowing your triggers allows you to address them head on.
- Set realistic expectations: It’s important to set realistic goals and expectations for the holiday season. When it’s all said and done, we typically look back on the holiday season fondly, regardless of how well the turkey was cooked.
- Define your holiday goals: Before the holiday season is in full swing, spend some time to set your personal holiday objectives, including what you hope to accomplish, whom you want to spend time with, how much money you want to spend, and whether or not you want to host this year’s gathering.
Time Management and Prioritization
- Plan ahead: Creating a holiday schedule can help you manage your time effectively. Develop a holiday road map for your tasks, events, and responsibilities in advance to help reduce last-minute stress.
- Prioritize activities: This year, give yourself a little break if you need one – you don’t have to attend every holiday event or tradition. Prioritize the most meaningful happenings and consider scaling back on others to prevent becoming overwhelmed.
- Practice self-care: Make sure to allocate time for taking care of yourself in your schedule. Take a walk, meditate, indulge in a relaxing bath, or take time away from the family gathering to meet up with close friends for some holiday cheer.
Building a Support Network
- Lean on loved ones: Don’t hesitate to ask for support from family and friends. Share your feelings and concerns, and remember you don’t have to go through the holiday season alone.
- Seek professional support when needed: If your holiday-related stress is overwhelming and unmanageable, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor for mental preparation for the holidays.
- Join a community or social group: The holidays can demand a lot from all of us. Seeking solace in a community group or local social network can offer a great escape from everyday holiday stress.
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Practicing Stress-relief Techniques
- Make time for mindfulness and meditation: Incorporating mindfulness exercises or meditation into your daily routine can help you stay grounded and reduce stress during the busy holiday season.
- Practice breathing exercises: Deep breathing exercises can provide immediate relief when you feel overwhelmed. Circular or square breathing (breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, out for four seconds, hold for four seconds, repeat), or simply stepping away to take ten deep breaths can instantly calm frayed nerves.
- Get moving: Regular exercise not only boosts your physical health, it also helps manage stress and anxiety. If you need a break from a full house, step outside for a walk or a run.
Navigating Family Dynamics
- Use effective communication strategies: Use clear and compassionate communication when addressing potential family conflicts. Active listening and empathy can go a long way.
- Set boundaries: Don’t be afraid to set healthy boundaries with family members when needed. Your wellbeing is a priority.
- Ways to cope with family stress: Plan ahead to minimize time with family members who you know cause stress. Ask people to avoid contentious topics at the holiday dinner table. If staying with family has become too much, look into accommodations nearby to help avoid conflict and allow for space.
Managing Financial and Gift-related Stress
- Set a budget and do some financial planning ahead of time: A simple spreadsheet with gifts ideas and set budgets helps avert overspending. For kids, a good rule of thumb is, “Something they want, something they need, something they can wear, something they can read.”
- Explore creative and meaningful gift ideas: This year, consider swapping too many toys and things people don’t want or need for longer-lasting, more meaningful gifts. Ask grandparents to give grandkids experiences, such as lessons, activities or excursions, instead of toys. Adult family members can do a book swap instead of overspending on more particular personal items such as clothing or jewelry. Or have everyone choose their favorite charity to which others can donate on their behalf.
- Manage expectations around gift giving: Talking with other family members about this year’s gifts can help pare down on excess and keep things within budget. Larger families can do a Secret Santa versus giving every relative a gift. Or maybe agree to only give gifts to those under 18-years old. Whatever the expectation, make sure everyone is on the same page to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
Coping with Grief and Loneliness
- Dealing with loss during the holidays: Whether this is the first year or the fortieth without that certain someone, resist the urge to cancel the holiday altogether. Instead, surround yourself with those who love you and understand what you’re going through. Don’t feel guilty if you experience a spectrum of emotions around your grief – joy, sorrow, sadness, warmth. Think about creating a new tradition around the person who’s gone. It could be as small as lighting a candle or as symbolic as setting out a picture or hanging a special wreath in memoriam.
- Connect with supportive communities: Look to those around you for love and support during the holiday season. Groups for grief and loss or local gatherings can offer a great way to connect with others going through something similar.
- Volunteer and give back: The holidays are an excellent time to give to those in need. If you’re experiencing grief or loneliness, helping others provides a way to increase personal happiness while helping others do the same.
Dealing with Social and Cultural Expectations
- Balance beliefs and traditions: Find a balance between your personal beliefs and cultural traditions. It’s okay to celebrate the holidays in a way that feels right to you and your family.
- Set boundaries: Considerately and assertively communicate your boundaries to others when it comes to social or cultural expectations as part of mental preparation for the holidays.
- Celebrate in a way that resonates with you: Defining personal holiday happiness, especially as families grow and traditions combine, is an elemental part of enjoying the holiday season. Embrace the balance between honoring old traditions and creating new ones in a way that brings you and your family joy.
- Let go of perfectionism: Even the most seasoned event professionals know when it’s time to abandon the perfect for the sake of the good.
- Embrace imperfections: Remember that the holidays don’t have to be perfect; it’s okay to let go of an ideal that’s impossible to achieve. Sometimes, our favorite and most beautiful moments are the imperfect ones.
- Know the power of forgiveness: The holidays offer an ideal, end-of-year time to let go and forgive.
The holiday season is a time for celebration and joy. Mental preparation for the holidays and active management of holiday-related stress and anxiety helps us embrace the season with a sense of peace and wellbeing. If you feel you need support before the holidays, talk with your primary care provider about managing stress. Your mental health matters, and prioritizing self-care during the holidays is an important gift for you and your loved ones. May this holiday season be filled with warmth, love and many happy memories – both the perfect and imperfect ones.