Reducing Holiday Stress

With the holiday season underway, the ‘most wonderful time of the year’, for many, can turn into the most stressful.

The season of joy, wonder and giving can give way to unrealistic expectations, over-scheduling and overspending, says Patricia Toney, a licensed professional counselor and registered nurse with ThedaCare Behavioral Health in Waupaca and New London. To reduce holiday anxiety and increase genuine enjoyment, Toney suggests that people make a plan and be realistic.

“One of the first things I tell people is to make a plan,” Toney said. “Make a budget, for example, so you know what you can afford to spend. Otherwise, if you have the expectation that you are going to buy that big Christmas gift, but really can’t afford it, you will set yourself up for failure.”

While many people tend to romanticize the perfect family gathering from yesteryear, or the one they see on TV, it’s time to be realistic, she says.

“Remember that your family is a real family and not a TV family,” she said. “Don’t set yourself up expecting that everything is going to be perfect without any conflict.”

Toney also encourages people to consider new traditions – ones that work for them. Just because your grandmother served an elaborate Christmas day feast with eight side dishes when you were a kid doesn’t mean you have to. 

“Maybe it’s time to come up with your own creative way to make the holidays special,” she said. “Maybe you get together with family and make lasagna.”

Adopting new, meaningful traditions – even if they are simple and affordable, can help make the holidays more enjoyable, especially if there have been recent hardships, whether a job loss, divorce, or other life stressors, she added.

Toney also offered the following tips to “thrive, instead of just survive” through the holidays:

Curb the carbs – The holiday cookies, sweets and treats are very tempting, but eat them sparingly. The more sugar we eat, the less energy we have, which contributes to feeling run down, said Toney. Be sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet to help ward off stress.

Keep moving Make time to exercise, even if it’s a short walk after dinner, choosing stairs over the elevator, or parking at the far end of the mall parking lot. Virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever.

Positive self talk – Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” can help reframe situations and reduce stress. “I suggest people keep a spiral notebook, and at the end of each day, write down one sentence about something positive about the day,” Toney said.

“Most importantly, enjoy the holidays for what they are meant to be – a joyous, simple, meaningful time with those who are important in our lives, and taking time for ourselves to re-fuel before the New Year, and to build new memories,” she said.