20 Tips for Coping With Holiday Stress


No doubt holiday stress can be difficult to manage for many people, and it can be especially tricky for people who have a mental illness. If you struggle with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, keep reading for coping tips to help get you through the season.

The weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s can be a time of added stress as your schedule fills with parties and get-togethers and shopping taxes your budget; loneliness can creep up on you, and spending time with family can bring up bad memories or habits.

But the good news is you can manage your holiday stress by following some of the coping tips listed below.

1. Simplify.

Look through your to-do list and see if there is anything you can eliminate. Prioritize what’s truly important and let go of what only adds to stress and not to memories.

2. Remember self-care.

With all the hustle and bustle, it can be all too easy to forget to take care of yourself. But you may only add to your stress level if you don’t. So remember to eat healthy, exercise, take your medication(s), keep counseling appointments, and practice your coping techniques.

3. Feel all your feelings.

Even with all the feel-good commercials and messages we are often bombarded with during the holiday season, it’s completely OK and even normal to feel sad, lonely, or angry, too. Recognize and accept all the feelings you may have during this time.

4. Get creative.

Not every gift and decoration has to be store-bought. You can save money by making gifts, which can mean even more to the recipient if they are handmade.

5. Reduce substance use.

Alcohol, caffeine, and drugs can make any existing mental health issues worse. In my experience, it’s best to avoid or limit intake of any substances (a good thing to remember at all times, but even more important in times of holiday stress).

6. Spend time with encouragers.

A good way to keep morale high during the holiday season is by spending time with people who lift you up. Whether that be a friend, family member, or a support group you attend — reach out to someone who can encourage you.

7. Bring in the new.

Sometimes, we get stuck in a rut of how things “should go,” the traditions we have always done, or the way holidays have gone in the past. But sometimes life can’t go back to the way it was and it’s time to usher in new traditions. Try something new this year!

8. Pay it forward.

Otherwise known as Random Acts of Kindness, thinking outside yourself can be a great way to reduce your own holiday stress and brighten someone else’s spirit. Some ideas include buying coffee for the person behind you in line, leaving an encouraging note in a place where a stranger can find it, shoveling someone’s sidewalk, leaving a treat for a co-worker, or surprising someone with homemade cookies!

9. Enjoy solitude.

With so many parties, get-togethers, and family time all crammed into a few weeks, it can be overwhelming and depleting of energy. Try to carve out time for yourself every day — recharge your batteries so you can be at your best.

10. Sleep.

When we get so busy with holiday stress, we tend to sleep less. But sleep is important for mental well-being. Try to stick to your normal routine and get the hours of sleep you need to feel good.

11. Learn to say no.

Set up healthy boundaries for your own sanity. You don’t have to do it all and you don’t need to feel guilty about it either!

12. Be realistic.

Your home does not have to look like it belongs in a catalog, the food does not have to be gourmet, and not everything has to get done on your to-do list. Try to keep your priorities in check and remember what will really be cherished memories in years to come.

13. Delegate.

You don’t have to do it all! Ask other people to help you complete your to-do list — many people love to feel helpful. Even if it’s a small item, it will be one less thing creating holiday stress.

14. Plan ahead.

This is one of my major pitfalls at the holiday time. I procrastinate and am left doing everything at the last minute. However, there are so many things that can be done ahead of time (shopping and wrapping to name a few), which would leave more time for relaxing and having fun as the actual holiday draws closer.

15. Volunteer.

Using your talents and time can make a world of difference to someone else — during the holidays and any other time of the year. And bonus: It can help you feel better, too! Try visiting a nursing home, helping out at a food pantry, being a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army, or volunteering at a local school.

16. Keep your expectations in check.

People do not always act how we want or say things we wish they would (or wouldn’t!). It is important to remember at this time of year to not expect too much out of people who may also be dealing with their own holiday stress. Perhaps when the holidays have passed, you can have a conversation with them about what you need for your own mental health.

17. Watch the wallet.

One of the worst ways for stress to build up is to watch your bank account drain down as you buy gifts, decorations and holiday meals. It can help to set up a budget before the holidays arrive and stick to it. Or to save even more, try making some of the gifts — they might end up being more meaningful, too!

18. Practice forgiveness.

Being with family during the holidays can dredge up old painful memories. If you haven’t already, learn how to forgive that person(s) — not for their benefit but for yours.

19. Get outside.

Yes, the weather may not be delightful, but spending even just a little bit of time outside can boost your mood. Even better — if you can combine with a form of exercise like walking, cycling, running, or hiking,  you can reap even more benefits!

20. Focus on the positive.

This is definitely easier said than done, but if you can train your brain to look for the good in each situation, you might find yourself with a better mood, less stress, and more overall happiness. To get started, try writing down three things each day that you are grateful for.

Hopefully, these tips for reducing holiday stress will be useful to you.

Image via Thinkstock.

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