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7 Ways To De-stress Your Holidays
By Tracie Miles
‘Tis the season to be merry… and stressed. Sometimes holiday emotions make us feel more tangled up than lights on the Christmas tree, no matter how we feel them.
For those who aren’t fans of the Christmas season, the hustle, bustle and emotional rustle that this time of year brings on can elicit overwhelming feelings, including irritability, loneliness, and even depression.
For those who love the holiday season, those same feelings can still secretly weave themselves into our spirits, as busyness and expectations take their toll on our hearts.
Unfortunately regardless of opinion, Christmas can be a season of stress and anxiety, leaving us feeling as messy as ripped up wrapping paper strewn around the living room on Christmas morning. The holidays often bring on a flood of heightened emotions which vary in intensity from person to person, and often result in dangerous stress levels.
When holiday stress is piled on top of regular stressors, some people even resort to harmful methods of coping – such as over indulging in food, alcohol, caffeine or even drugs. In fact, the American Psychological Association found that nearly all women in the U.S, experience such heightened stress during the holidays that their health is put at risk. Studies also showed that 41% of women use food, and 28% of women use alcohol to curb their pain during the holidays.
In addition to potential harm to our health, these coping methods can result in additional stress long after the Christmas decorations have been put away. So regardless of what it is about the holidays that makes us feel anxious, holiday stress is not to be ignored.
Fortunately, we can counteract the negative impact of holiday stress by following a few simple suggestions. Here are 7 strategies to keep in mind to avoid letting holiday stress steal your joy, squelch your Christmas spirit, and damage your health.
1. Plan for your stress.
You are probably well aware of the holiday stressors that push you to the limit, so why wait until the holidays come around again to face them?
For example, if you know the task of decorating your home makes you stressed, invite some friends or family members to help out. If you know that trying to bake goods for the PTA bake sale makes you feel burdened, give yourself permission to sit this year out. If a certain family function causes annual chaos, pray for God’s divine intervention in dealing with family conflict this year. If searching for the hottest toys makes your head spin each year, set expectations with your children in advance. If wrapping gifts that look like they belong under a Christmas tree at Belk’s makes you stressed, start a new tradition of having kids or grandkids wrap the presents, then treasure the experience, not the appearance, of the wrapping.
When we are proactive in making plans for how to deal with common holiday stressors, we are less likely to react in the same stressed-out way that we always have. Ponder the things you know make you stressed, and plan a better way to approach them this year, so the same holiday stress doesn’t repeat its annual cycle.
2. Pursue a positive attitude.
Whether the holidays are our favorite time of year or not, we still need to pursue a loving, Godly attitude in the midst of the chaos. If we let crowds and traffic put us in a bad mood, we’ll take it out on our family later. If we allow obligations to stretch us thin, we’ll be too busy to enjoy the season. If we focus on all the negative aspects the holidays may bring, we will lose sight of the fact that we are really celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Our attitudes and our thoughts will carry us to a destination of a joy, or a destination of bitterness and grumpiness. If you struggle with a Grinch attitude every year, ask God to help you pursue a new attitude for this season, and find real joy in Christ.
3. Purposely get enough sleep.
If you want to be able to stay in a good mood during the holidays, don’t forget to rest! Sleep deprivation has a serious negative impact on people’s moods and their ability to manage even small stressors. Commit to getting to bed at a decent hour and getting a good night’s rest as often as possible.
4. Party sensibly.
Even though being at every holiday party we are invited to makes us feel and look like social butterflies, all that party-going may leave us bound up in a cocoon of stress. Choose your social events selectively, and only attend those which are most important to you. Stand in front of a mirror and rehearse a gentle and polite response to share when someone invites you to a function that you know will not fit into your schedule.
5. Prepare a routine for the month of December.
Write down your typical holiday obligations, and set a daily schedule for each day in December for fulfilling them. This might sound compulsively organized or even impossible, but it will be time and effort well spent, because good planning sets the stage for peace.
So, set aside an hour in November to map out your holiday month to-do’s. Think about all the things you usually do around the holidays, and jot them down on a list. Write out your gift list, gift suggestions, budget, social outings, travel, packing, shopping, babysitting needs, special events that you cook for, grocery lists, etc.. Then write down a target deadline for getting those things done.
6. Practice fun. The holidays are supposed to fun. Why do we let busyness and chaos steal that fun from our hearts? Think about some ways you can have fun with your family or friends.
Sometimes the best entertainment is cost effective, no hassle and stress free! In my family, we love snuggling on the couch and watching every holiday movie ever made, while laughing at the same scenes over and over, year after year. We enjoy watching the new Hallmark channel holiday movies, and a few of my old-time favorites are Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Jim Carey version), and Christmas With the Kranks. We also love riding around at night looking at Christmas lights in surrounding neighborhoods, having friends over, and sipping hot chocolate while decorating our tree and listening to Christmas music.
7. Promote love.
Our inward thoughts will always drive our outward actions, so if we want to show love during the holidays to family, friends and total strangers, we first have to focus on feeling God’s love.
Although every person faces different adversities in life, we can all enjoy the Christmas season if we remember that Christmas is really about celebrating God’s love for us. If we bicker and complain our way through the season, our holiday spirit will exit quicker than Santa up the chimney. But if we focus on the fact that we are supposed to be celebrating peace, joy, and love, our Christmas spirit, our faith, and our love for others will soar. When our hearts are full of love, it’s hard to be a Grinch.
A little holiday stress preparation can be the determining factor in whether your holiday is joy-full, or stress-full - and a stressed-less holiday will usually lead to a happy holiday!
Tracie Miles is a national conference speaker with Proverbs 31 Ministries. Tracie speaks God's truths to empower and motivate others to depend on Christ in their everyday lives, and lead them to a place of peace and purpose through learning to live intentionally for Christ. Tracie is a contributing writer for Encouragement for Today online devotions that currently touch over 500,000 lives each day around the world. She is the author of Stressed-Less Living: Finding God’s Peace In Your Chaotic World , and lives in North Carolina with her husband and three children. Learn more about her book at www.stressedlessliving.com, and visit her at www.traciemiles.com