Managing Stress Around the Holidays

By Holly WhiteKnight, ND

It’s that time of year again. Parking lots are packed, stores are blaring holiday music and your schedule may be packed with gatherings and endless holiday engagements. Even for those who love and fully embrace the season, it can be a stress filled time of year. The holidays can also be a sensitive time for many, especially those who have lost a loved one or those who suffer from depression. Here are some ways to set yourself up for the most relaxed and present holiday season yet:

– Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place. It is often difficult to stop and backtrack when at the peak of holiday stress. Know yourself and reflect on past holiday stressors or depression triggers, jot them down and come up with ways to avoid them this year or tackle them from a different angle. Be thoughtful and deliberate, choosing to spend your time in meaningful ways and to eliminate irrelevant tasks. Get your holiday armour ready, whatever it may be: a polite excuse to get you out of a dreaded commitment, a long walk after a congested family meal to have some alone time (maybe Fido really needed to have some extra sniffs!). If you suffer from depression, commit to a regular self care routine during the holidays, like hitting the gym in the evening or going for tea with some friends. Sipping on some St. John’s Wort tea may help uplift your spirits and beat the holiday blues.

– Don’t abandon healthy habits. The holidays should not be a free-for-all. Enjoy the parties, but keep things in moderation or the overindulgence will leave you feeling worse off in the end. Incorporate regular physical activity each day. Try to get outside for some fresh air. Get plenty of sleep. Stay hydrated. Before going to a party, try to eat a healthy snack so you don’t arrive famished and surrounded by dessert trays. Think about supporting your adrenals if you know you are the type of person who will want to “do it all” and then burn yourself out. Help boost your immune system and protect from burnout with simple solutions like getting plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, enjoying a whole foods diet and adding in some vitamin C and a B complex supplement.

– Plan some self-care into the mix. Be sure to schedule some time to do something just for yourself. Be it an evening walk to gaze at stars, a cozy chair with a favourite book or a trip to the spa, make sure you take some time to recollect. Feeling restored in the middle of the holidays will give you that extra boost to allow you to handle the flurry of the season.

– Stick to a budget. Before starting the spending for the season, sit down and realistically evaluate what you have to budget on the holidays, and then stick to it. Piles and piles of gifts won’t buy happiness and in the end will contribute to more stress on your part when you get the credit card bills in the mail come January. Set a firm, but reasonable amount to each person that you will give a gift to and then budget for some extra money for food, hosting parties or sending out cards. The more realistic you are now, the better off you will be in the new year. If money is particularly tight, try some of the following ideas in lieu of the avalanche of gifts:

o Donate to a local charity
o Give homemade gifts
o Start a family gift exchange
o Pitch in for a family trip instead of material items

– Be realistic. Just because last year you did something specific at the holidays, it doesn’t mean that this year you have to do it again, or do it the same way. Things change; families’ move apart and traditions evolve over time. It is important to try to let things go and try to be flexible in the happenings of the season. Remember what matters and try to incorporate new ways of being together or celebrating so that everyone’s needs are met as best as possible. If you are feeling overwhelmed, my favourite go-to support is Rescue Remedy; a Bach flower mix that helps to take the edge off, particularly good for the holidays.

– Acknowledge your feelings. If you’re sad because you can’t be with loved ones, then be sad. If you’re disappointed that you can’t make it to every engagement on the holiday line-up, then be disappointed. It’s better to own your feelings, feel them and then move forward than to deny them or repress them. Just because the holidays are supposed to be filled with happiness and joy, it doesn’t mean that you have to force yourself to be that way. Try journaling how you are feeling or talk to a trusted friend so you don’t keep things bottled up.

– Reach out. If you are feeling lonely and depressed, try to get help from someone. Call a friend, seek out community, go to a church group. Try to be connected so you don’t feel so isolated. Volunteering your time to help those in need can also be a wonderful way to feel good around the holidays. This time of year can be difficult even without the rush of the season. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects approximately 15% of Canadians. If you suffer from low moods in the winter, try using a full-spectrum light first thing in the morning for 30 minutes to help with regulating the circadian rhythm and helping with mood elevation. Adding some vitamin D would be a good idea as well.

– Set aside differences. Accept the people in your life for who they are and realize that you can’t control everything. Sometimes families can be difficult or friends can be exhausting, but put aside your expectations and try to go with the flow. Try to be empathetic if someone else gets upset or disappointed when things don’t go as planned, they’re likely feeling the stress of the holidays too.

– Learn to say “no”. Often a difficult one for many, but an important skill to develop. If you find saying “no” particularly challenging, try to start off with saying “let me think about it” first, which will give you some time to think about your answer before blurting out “yes” and then regretting it later. The last thing you need at the holidays is to feel resentful or overwhelmed by too many commitments.

– Seek professional help if needed. If you feel like you’ve tried everything and gave it your best shot but still feel bogged down by sadness, anxiety or feelings of hopelessness, don’t hesitate to contact your medical doctor, your naturopathic doctor or a mental health professional.