The smell of the Thanksgiving turkey wafting throughout the entire house.
The festive music playing while holiday shopping and gift wrapping.
The joy of helping grandkids bake cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.
Despite these joyous moments, though, the holidays can be a time of year for peaked stress levels.
But what causes this stress and those so-called “holiday blues” during a supposed jolly time of year? Learn what causes holiday stress and just how to enjoy the holiday season!
What Causes Holiday Blues and Stress?
The causes of holiday stress are personal and can vary. Because what feels like stress, sadness, and other negative feelings affect each person differently.
Certain risk factors may trigger and exacerbate the holiday blues. This may include the loss of a family member or friend, recent illnesses, and a sudden change in routine.
Additional causes of the holiday blues and stress may include:
• Unrealistic expectations of what the holiday should consist of.
• Feeling crunched for time, such as food prepping when hosting a party or finding a last-minute gift.
• Over-commercialization of the holidays.
• Juggling too many commitments such as holiday celebrations and parties.
• Financial pressures that can come with finding the perfect gift or traveling.
• Snowball effect of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression. SAD tends to occur in the fall and winter months when daylight grows shorter.
• Ineffective coping strategies to deal with the holiday blues.
But while sadness and depression affect people on an individual basis, there are common symptoms to look out for.
Holiday Blues Symptoms
Again, holiday blues can look different from person-to-person. Negative moods can even accompany feelings of love, happiness, and joy.
However, there are common symptoms to look out for, including:
• Feelings of loneliness and isolation.
• Easily irritable and agitated.
• Changes in eating patterns, including under- and overeating.
• Fatigue and lack of energy.
• Excessive drinking.
• Difficulty sleeping and insomnia.
Even if the odds seem stacked high, staying stress-free during the holidays is possible.
10 Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday Season
Like the causes, managing holiday stress can vary from one person to the next. Fortunately, these holiday stress management tips can be helpful for a happy and healthy season.
1. Focus On the Now and New
Whether reflecting on happy or not-so-happy memories, living in the past can cause negative feelings in the current time. The holidays may leave you feeling not as joyous in older years than in childhood. Or, perhaps you feel acute despair in the absence of a loved one.
Rather than trying to relive past holidays, focus on the now and experience new traditions. Lively, fresh ideas include volunteering with family members, hosting a book exchange, and having a Christmas cookie party.
2. Practice Acceptance
If not feeling as jolly as others around you during the holidays, that is quite alright!
Instead of allowing yourself to become more frustrated, practice acceptance and be kind to yourself. Also, recognize you are not the only one feeling such feelings and sadness.
3. Be Realistic with Expectations
From finding the perfect holiday card to the best holiday decor, there is often pressure on what the holidays should entail. But it is important to be realistic and differentiate with what society expects versus what you expect.
Stressed that your Christmas tree does not resemble the one out of a magazine, though it still hangs all your favorite ornaments? Allow yourself to be at peace with what you personally enjoy.
4. Keep Active
The motivation to get active during the cooler winter months may be running low. But exercise benefits the body and brain and is a tried and true method for beating the holiday blues and stress.
Aim to keep as active as possible, including taking the dog on a walk. Besides, even a 10-minute walk can release those mood-boosting endorphins!
5. Give Back to Others
Helping and giving back to others is essentially the reason for the season and quite the mood booster! And contributing any selfless, free time enriches the meaning of life at any time of the year.
Ideas to give back to others include volunteering at a local food pantry or humane society. Bell ringing for the Salvation Army is another great volunteer opportunity during the holidays.
6. Make Self-Care a Priority
In the midst of attending social gatherings and giving back to others, you might be losing touch with yourself. However, honoring self-care is important to keep physical and emotional symptoms in check over the holidays.
Gift yourself the invaluable time to eat balanced meals, exercise, sleep, and manage stress effectively. In turn, you are less likely to experience negative mood changes and more apt to spend time with loved ones.
7. Allow Yourself to Say “No”
The holidays tend to come with numerous invites to parties, gatherings, and celebrations. And surrounding yourself with social support is one of the best tips to beat depression over the holidays. However, being too immersed and stretched thin can be equally as overwhelming.
So, allow yourself to respectively say no to events you truly do not want to attend the holiday season. Do not feel guilty about picking and choosing which events you would like to participate in. Because, ideally, we should be around individuals who uplift us in a positive way.
8. Confide in Support
While declining invites is certainly okay, it is important to recognize if you truly feel overbooked or are avoiding social gatherings. Staying at home alone and feeling lonely can also exacerbate the holiday blues.
Having support is one of the most successful methods to reduce negative feelings. And likewise as important, be attentive on symptoms of holiday blues of your loved one. Extend a helping hand to their needs and help them overcome stressors of the holiday and health outcomes that may arise.
9. Stick to a Budget
Create a financial budget for gifts, travel, and activities and stick to it. Also realize the best presents are the ones with the most thought, not a dollar value.
Look for creative ways to give to family and friends this year, including by offering unique skills. For instance, volunteer to cook a homemade meal or clean their home free of charge.
10. Be Prepared
You cannot always perceive the future’s entirety. Besides, sometimes the best moments are those unplanned and spontaneous!
However, you can map out areas on which preparation can work in your favor. Stress-free holiday planning tips include preparing food items ahead of time to help reduce stress when hosting. Staying stocked with well-balanced and convenient meals helps ensure healthy eating throughout the holidays, too.
But even after making an effort to overcome holiday blues symptoms, such emotions may not pass. Consider consulting with a professional for medical advice if so.
Ultimately, do not feel defeated, as seeking out help is an act of great strength!