By Linda Zamvil, MD, Medical Director, Lamoille Health Behavioral Health & Wellness
If you feel stressed out about the holiday season, you’re not alone. About one-third of Americans say the holidays are more stressful than they are fun, according to a PBS poll.
Maybe you’re overwhelmed by cooking special meals, mailing greeting cards, or finding the right gifts for your kids when all the stores are out of stock. For some, an afternoon with certain family members makes them anxious, while others are just plain lonely during a time that’s supposed to be joyful.
The reasons for holiday stress can be different for everyone. And it’s actually pretty normal to feel a bit anxious or overwhelmed when your routine is off schedule or you have a lot of extra activities on your do-to list. What’s important is to think about how you can manage the stress before it creeps up on you.
What to do about holiday stress
Consider these tips for managing that less-than-festive feeling.
- Adjust your expectations
Too often, people try to do it all — hosting parties, cooking, shopping, gift-giving, etc. — and they try to do it perfectly. Those high expectations can be an ongoing cause of anxiety.
Ask yourself where you might be able to find some breathing room. Are there some get-togethers you can skip? Can you order food instead of trying to make it? Can you simply say “no” to a few past traditions that have run their course? Try to be open-minded about what the perfect holiday really looks like.
- Acknowledge your feelings
As the holidays approach, check in with yourself and listen to what your mind and body are trying to tell you. Just because it’s the holidays, that doesn’t mean you are limited to just being happy.
Try to put a name to what you’re experiencing. Is it fear — perhaps fear that you might disappoint someone? Is it sadness — perhaps you’re missing a loved one right now? Is it just plain old exhaustion — maybe you need a little more sleep? Being more specific about the emotion that’s got such a tight grip on you can help solve the underlying issue or at least give you some perspective on it.
- Set aside time for peace
Try some mindfulness to get your thoughts off the rollercoaster of exhausting emotions. Mindfulness is the practice of just being in the moment, as you are right now, without judgment, and using your senses to absorb what’s around you.
Start by deep breathing for a few moments. What do you see, hear, and smell? Be aware of how the ground beneath you supports your physical body. Sense the beating of your heart. If your thoughts start rushing around, gently bring them back to now.
Some people like to read, hike, play music, or knit as a mindfulness practice. Here’s a hint: Anything that involves a screen or feels like a chore is probably not going to bring you much peace. Do what you enjoy.
- Eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise
A healthy diet is proven to help ward off stress and anxiety, but we tend to neglect that around the holidays when everyone’s serving up delicious challah bread or pumpkin pie. By simply paying attention to what you’re eating and drinking, you can keep your focus on smaller portions and avoid loading up.
If your Lamoille Health Partners care team recommended a specific diet for you, such as low-salt or gluten-free, do yourself a favor and stick to it. The holidays certainly won’t be enjoyable if your health conditions flare up.
Keep a regular sleep schedule as much as you can. Being “sleep deprived” can cause anxiety and irritability. You might not be able to make good decisions, and you certainly won’t have much fun if you’re cranky because you’re overtired. Remember that most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Exercise tends to be the first thing that goes out the window when you’re busy. Find a fun way to stay active that fits into your holiday rush. For example, if you’re going to the store, consider parking at the far end of the lot and walking a little bit. Plan a holiday-morning hike with your neighbors. Stretch during commercial breaks while watching football or your favorite holiday classic movie. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 30 minutes per day, five days a week (or 150 minutes total).
- Talk to your care provider
Yes, stress is indeed part of life, but if it’s interfering with your health or your ability to function normally, consider reaching out to your Lamoille Health Partners provider. We can help you and your family manage holiday stress and its sources.
It’s important to reach out early instead of waiting for the stress to get so bad that you can’t get out of bed or an existing health condition gets worse. Stick to your care plans if you have a health condition, and keep your regular appointments.
Our team at Lamoille will listen to your unique concerns and help you stay healthy during the holidays and all year long. Let us get to know you personally.