The year-end festive season is a busy time.  Looking ahead to gatherings and activities with family and friends may fill you with anticipation and excitement or you may feel a build-up of anxiety as the holidays approach. Even if you are a seasoned multi-tasker, the pressures to create an ideal holiday experience, including preparing delicious meals and buying thoughtful gifts, can lead to anxiety and stress. 

 Reasons for festive season holiday stress 

  • Busyness: Our work schedules become heavier towards the end of the year as we strive to meet short deadlines and tackle as much work as possible to be able to take days off. In our personal lives, over and above our usual chores, we have shopping for gifts, planning festive events, hosting relatives or arranging travel, and a bunch of other responsibilities that require a lot of time and effort.  
  • Overindulgence: The festive season experience can tempt us to overdo things in many ways. Giving in to this temptation can land people with a whole range of consequences: over-spending and debt, stress and exhaustion, friction in family relationships or disappointment in ourselves for giving in to the impulse to “go large” when we anticipate facing the music in the new year.  
  • Grief and loss: During the holiday season, many people have a tough time, missing a loved one they have lost or simply experiencing an increased feeling of grief or loss. Managing grief while the people around you are celebrating the season can be a real challenge.  

Overall, it is easy to see why maintaining healthy mental, emotional and physical balance at the end of the year can be a great challenge. But it does not have to be this way.  

Here are 5 practical ways to avoid holiday stress:  

5 tips to de-stressing during the holidays
1. Remember what is important

Start by re-evaluating your holiday traditions and plans. Are you planning to do things that really matter to you? Commercialism can overshadow what is at the heart of the festive season. It is important to remember that your loving relationships with family and friends are not defined through the giving of expensive gifts or lavish dinners.

Action: Plan, prioritise, and budget wisely. Create a to-do list or a schedule for the holiday season and prioritise the most important tasks and events to ensure you are not overwhelmed. Set a budget for gifts, decorations, and other expenses and stick to it.

2. Spend quality time with family

Family traditions bond us closer together and the opportunity to strengthen these bonds is one of the greatest benefits of spending holiday time with your family. They help children in the family feel a sense of belonging and can create memories that will last a lifetime. If you are concerned about conflict or potentially difficult conversations at family gatherings, orchestrate the family to focus on creating good memories and what the family has in common. For example, if politics or religion are touchy subjects, do not go there. Should something go wrong, know that it is not the end of the world.

Action: Plan fun things to do together. Family members are less likely to get into arguments if they are involved in enjoyable activities. Plan things to do as a group and focus on activities you enjoy doing together. Set limits for the amount of time you will spend with your family if you can, depending on whether they are visiting or are staying with you for the holidays. This will make your time together special and more enjoyable.

3. Take time out to spend with friends.

For many people, especially those without family nearby, spending time with friends can be a meaningful way to celebrate the holidays. Being social and spending time with friends is a wonderful way to alleviate stress and it will show your close friends how much you care about your relationship.

Action: Chose to spend time with positive people. Do things with the people you feel most comfortable with, who support you and bring you joy. If you are not in the market to take a road trip or to spend a weekend away together, then organise an outing with friends and make a day of it!  Or you can share the load and get together for a bring-and-share brunch or festive dinner.

4. Set aside time for yourself

All of us need quality time out to recharge our batteries. You may be the hub in your family and feel pressured to be everything to everyone, but it is important to take time out for yourself. Sometimes self-care is the best thing you can do for your family. They will benefit if you are feeling rested and less stressed.

Action: Look after your physical and mental health. Get enough sleep, keep up with your regular exercise routine and eat and drink in moderation. This will help to give you the stamina you need to get through a busy festive season. Find the time to do the things you love but may not usually have loads of time for. Go for long walks, take a daily nap or read a new book.

5. Be grateful for what you have

If you are alone for the holidays, do something positive to treat yourself every day. Cook your favourite meals, indulge in your hobbies, make sure to have a good book or TV series on hand and, if possible, catch up with far flung family or friends by phone or video call.

Action: Pay it forward. Appreciate what you have and value the small things that other people do for you throughout the year. Reciprocate through gestures that show your appreciation this holiday season. No matter what your religious beliefs are, if you are going to be alone on Christmas Day or Family Day, consider volunteering so that you spend time in support of others and have a welcoming place to go.

The truth is that our families do not need us to provide the perfect holiday season. They do not need to be spoilt with more things. They need us to be happy and present, enjoying their company. So, do not let the pressure of maintaining traditions, lofty expectations, busyness and the tasks on your to-do list steal your joy and the opportunity to rest and revitalise this festive season.

Over to you for sharing your comments and experiences.

About the Author: Kerstin Jatho

Kerstin is the senior transformational coach and team development facilitator for 4Seeds Consulting. She is also the author of Growing Butterfly Wings, a book on applying positive psychology principles during a lengthy recovery. Her passion is to develop people-centred organisations where people thrive and achieve their potential in the workplace. You can find Kerstin on LinkedIn, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

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