As the presence of the festive season is everywhere we turn, many of us recognize that winter holidays can be both the most exciting and the most stressful time of the year. Among the obvious forces of holiday stress such as bright decorations, shopping trips, baking marathons and card signing, there are also not-so-enjoyable things like budgeting, time management, physical and mental exhaustion, risk of overeating, as well as family drama and other emotional “stuff”. Talk about feeling overwhelmed.

This is also the time of the year when our secret fears and anxieties are activated and holiday stress takes over

We become more vulnerable for our choices and decisions to be guided by limiting beliefs (internal trauma) we hold about ourselves and the world. For example, you had a general idea of what your next two weeks would look like, you open your calendar and suddenly you see it flooded with office gatherings, craft sales invites, family commitments, cocktail parties and holiday shopping trips, and you catch yourself thinking “I am not in control” or “I am powerless”.

What if you are on the opposite end of the spectrum: your e-mail box is empty, those Christmas lights are annoying, and curling up with your pet on a couch watching sci-fi is the most celebration you may be looking forward to. And though the choice may be yours and only yours, the intrusive nature of the holiday pressure gets harder to ignore and you may start hearing those uncomfortable “there’s something wrong with me”, “I am fake”, and “I am not special” thoughts.

Depending on how deep-seated these beliefs are, they may require more focused and lengthy “unpacking”. For now, let’s look at some of the quick ways one can mitigate the intensity of holidays stress:

ShiftGrit Psychology & Counselling - holiday stress
Photo courtesy of Dreamstime

1) Try unitasking

It is not a surprise that humans were not designed to multitask. Doing more than one thing at a time is taxing for our mental functioning and it drains our energy sooner. Multitasking requires us to switch our focus quickly, while being alert and attentive to many details, which is something many of us already do on a daily basis. But during the holiday season, the demand for this is even greater. Try to challenge yourself to do one thing at a time. If you are catching up on work e-mails, set specific time-frame for doing that and purposefully limit interruptions during that period. If you are planning a party, focus on one aspect of it at a time and avoid moving onto the next part until it is done, and so on.

2) Evaluate your expectations

More than any time of the year, holiday season is filled with a striking number of “shoulds”: those societal check boxes on how we need to do things and whom we need to spend time with. This is the time when we may start forgetting what do we really want and how we want to do it. Try asking yourself: What am I hoping to see happening this year? And, more importantly, be honest to yourself. Do a quick check-in: are these expectations realistic? (In other words, if you do not remember a holiday when your mom was successful in resisting the urge to criticize your outfit, how realistic would be to expect that this year?).

3) Self-reflection

More often than not we get so overwhelmed by all the “doing” of the holidays that we lose focus of the “whys” behind our actions. Taking few moments every now and then to re-connect to the reasons behind why you do what you do during this time can add a pitch of mindfulness and intention to our actions and reconnect us to the meaning we assign to this time of the year. What is special about holidays to you? Why? What memories are surfacing for you during this time? Are they pleasant memories or are they negative ones? In what way? Are there any triggers that come up for you during holidays? If so, how are you helping yourself through that? Taking some time to reflect on these can be a small step of peeling away the layer of practical chaos and looking beneath to see what may be fuelling our actions and emotions during this time.

4) Remember You?

Another feature of this time of the year is a distinctive priorities shift. This is when we worry what to get everyone for a gift, who’s party to attend, and who will be less upset with a rejection. This is the time when our own needs and wants are patiently resting on the sidebars of other people’s preferences and desires. This is a slippery slope to develop a sense of resentment towards the entirety of the holiday, as well as those loved ones associated with it. Amid the holiday’s fun and not-so-fun stuff, make a conscious effort to check-in with yourself and recognize what your mind, body or soul may crave. Thinking of a hot bath while dressing up for the office holiday party? Surfing through holiday menu recipes online while wishing to spend some quality time with Netflix instead? Listen to that inner voice as it may shed some light on the areas of self-care that may need some more attention.

Holiday Stress

5) Boundary setting

Setting firm boundaries with yourself and others can be tricky. Setting boundaries during holidays is a whole different story. Maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships implies holding yourself accountable for your own behaviours and emotions, without assuming responsibility for the actions and feelings of other people in your life. The fine line when your emotions end and those of others’ begin can be even blurrier during the high pressure time of deadlines, urgent shipments, quick decisions, and rushed planning. So the next time you find yourself saying “yes” to something, when inside it really feels like a “no”, it may be a valuable opportunity to check the status of your boundaries and notice whether some of them are being challenged.