- We may feel extra pressure on ourselves to act happy and energized during the holiday season.
- There are several simple, natural, and free stress-relief remedies to combat holiday stress.
- The key is making self-care a priority.
Not "feeling it" this holiday season? You're not alone. A recent poll from Monster.com (2023) revealed that many people are experiencing symptoms of holiday stress. The poll found that 44 percent of workers surveyed reported feeling more stress during the holiday season than at other times, while 17 percent reported experiencing a decline in their well-being during the holidays.
Why does a season that's supposed to be filled with excitement and joy turn into a season of stress and strain?
There are many aspects of the holiday season that make it the perfect storm for stress and fatigue. Workloads dramatically increase for the millions of Americans employed in industries that explode during the holidays (think warehouse workers, food distributors, and shipping companies, not to mention small businesses that often experience the make-or-break stress of relying on strong holiday sales to stay in business). For those workers not directly impacted by the hustle and bustle of the holidays, there are often looming year-end deadlines, performance reviews, and bonus or pay raise worries that can increase stress levels.
Outside of work, stores, television, and online websites advertising Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Travel Tuesday "deals" begin overwhelming our senses well before Thanksgiving even arrives. There's also the financial stress that many experience due to extra holiday spending on food, gifts, and travel. Our normally busy schedules often feel on the verge of buckling under the demands of holiday parties, gift shopping, elaborate meal preparation, house guests, and family reunions. Crowds fill shopping malls and grocery stores, leading to long lines and frazzled nerves. Holiday traffic and travel can try the patience of a saint, and, of course, there's the added pressure many people put on themselves to live up to the energy, spirit, and joy of "'tis the season." Add to this the fact that holiday stress is more of a challenge to cope with because it's compressed into a very short period, and it's no wonder that 61 percent of those surveyed in the Monster poll reported feeling "negatively impacted" by the holidays.
Yet, holiday stress doesn't need to bring you down. Here are five simple self-care strategies to keep your holiday spirit alive and energized.
1. Make your list and check it twice. During the holidays, there are likely more things to do than you can realistically get done, which is why an effective to-do list is essential to managing stress and optimizing your time during the holidays. In her article, "15 secrets to make a to-do list that actually works," Julia Martins says that the three keys to creating effective to-do lists are capture, organize, and prioritize. Capture means to get it out of your head by putting it in writing either in digital or written form. Organize means to make your list functional. Make a list of all the things you feel that you need to get done, then divide that list into "need to do" and "would like to do." Put "would like to do" off to the side, then prioritize each item on your "need to do" list by its importance and "due date." As you complete tasks and take them off your list, your stress should lessen.
2. Keep Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Nature is a natural stress reliever, and when you actively engage with nature, its power is even more potent. Simple activities such as walking are a well-established way to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle and reduce stress, and when you add nature to your walk, it has the additional benefits of exposure to fresh air, green spaces, sunlight, and relaxing sights and sounds. Research has found that the act of being outside (walking, sitting, or both) for as few as 20 minutes a day three days a week produced significantly lower cortisol levels, a hormone directly related to stress (Hunter, Gillespie, & Chen, 2019). In addition, short-term exposure to sunlight, particularly morning sun, has been found to have wide-ranging physical and mental health benefits, including improved mood, reduced depressive symptoms, and stronger immunity. Only small amounts of exposure to these natural stress relievers are needed to secure these benefits, so something as simple as a quick walk outside during lunchtime can help.
3. Have some home-alone time. Although it's a season known for parties, family reunions, and get-togethers with friends, carve out some alone time into your busy social calendar. While some equate solitude with loneliness or sadness, the truth is that it can be quite healthy, bringing about a multitude of physical and psychological benefits. Time alone provides an opportunity to reboot and unwind, clear your mind, and think more clearly and deeply. Solitude also improves concentration and helps you work through problems more effectively. Here are a few ideas to gain the most benefit from alone time:
- Disconnect. You're not really alone unless you unplug from all the ways you connect with others. You'll be amazed at how much more you can get done when you're not distracted.
- Close your door. It can be hard to find alone time, particularly during the holidays if you have friends and family visiting. The simple act of closing your door can be enormously effective in keeping others out to give you a brief respite.
- Schedule solitude. If you mark your most important activities in your calendar, why not include the equally important activity of solitude? Simply mark off time in your schedule for spending time with yourself. If you can make time for all the little extras you fit into your day, like a Starbucks stop, you can schedule time in your calendar for solitude. It doesn't have to be long. Any amount of time you can spend rebooting, meditating, focusing, relaxing, creating, or thinking deeply is better than no time.
4. Prioritize silent nights. Restful sleep is kryptonite to stress, so prioritizing sleep will ensure that you have the energy to not just survive this busy season, but to thrive in it. Insufficient sleep makes us less productive, moodier, and often irritable. So, by prioritizing and protecting your sleep time, you'll have more energy and be in better spirits to celebrate the joy of the season.
5. Make your days merry and bright. One of the most underrated and least talked about stress relievers is fun, free, and available anytime you want it ... it's laughter. Funny story (pun intended) ... many years ago, I grudgingly attended what I thought was going to be a substance abuse seminar by Matt Bellace. The "grudgingly" had nothing to with Bellace; I didn't even know him. It was just one of those days from hell, his presentation was at 7 p.m., I was tired, and to add insult to injury, it had rained heavily the entire day, which did nothing to boost my mood or motivation. But I had committed to go, so I went—and thank goodness! I laughed so hard that I actually left feeling refreshed and re-energized. How did that happen at a substance abuse workshop? As it turns out, Bellace is not only a neuropsychologist who specializes in substance abuse but he's also a stand-up comedian. He uses humor as a way to get people to recognize that natural highs are better choices than chemical highs.
Laughter releases dopamine, which serves as a reward for the brain, creates a sense of euphoria, and plays a pivotal role in our motivation to continue the behavior. The natural benefits of laughter include improved immune functioning, stress relief, increased tolerance for pain, better cardiovascular health, reduced anxiety, and improved mood.
So, laugh as hard and as often as possible, especially this season. Watch comedies with your family. Read funny books during your alone time. Share funny stories during holiday get-togethers. It will go a long way in keeping your spirit alive and energized. (For more, see Bellace's book, A Better High: Laugh, Help, Run, Love...and Other Ways to Get Naturally High!)
Bellace, Matt. (2012). "A Better High: Laugh, Help, Run, Love...and Other Ways to Get Naturally High! " 3rd Ed. (Deadwood, Oregon: Deadwood Publishing).
Hunter, M., Gillespie, B., & Chen, S. (2019). Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers. Frontiers in Psychology. (Frontiers | Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers (frontiersin.org))
Martins, Julia (November 27, 2022). 15 secrets to make a to-do list that actually works. Asana. (15 Secrets to Make a To-Do List That Actually Works  • Asana)
Monster. (2023). Holiday Work Life Balance (Poll Results - Holiday Work Life Balance | Monster)
Andrea Corn. Holiday Blues Busters: 7 Tips to Bring More Joy into Your Life. Psychology Today.