Ah, the holidays. Synonymous with family gatherings, overindulgences and–yes–stress.
According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of respondents said their stress level increases during the holiday season.
But this year doesn’t have to be like every other year. Seize the opportunity to flip the script on your typical holiday stressors and have a joyful (and peaceful) season. Here are 5 ways you can reduce your holiday stress:
Identify what stresses you out and attack
This sounds somewhat simple, but when was the last time you wrote down exactly what stresses you out during the holidays? Whether it’s a simple scratch sheet of paper or an actual journal, take a few minutes to put pen to paper.
First, draw two vertical lines on the paper, dividing it into three columns.
The left column is for “Stressors,” anything that raises your blood pressure this time of year. Maybe it’s winter driving or overindulging at endless holiday parties or hosting visiting family members. Write them all down.
The center column is your “Why” column. This is a place where you look at what stresses you out and identify why it does. For example, if overindulging in sugary foods is stressful, your reason why might be that you feel guilty immediately afterward, or how sugar makes you feel overall or how your clothes feel tighter come January.
Then, the right column is for your “Plan of Attack.” You’re in a place of power when you identify something that causes stress, dig into why it does so and have the pre-emptive timing to plan for it. What can you do about that stress? Most likely, it can’t be avoided entirely. So, what’s your plan to navigate it? Is there anyone you can lean on for support?
If we continue with the example of overindulging in sugary foods, a plan of attack could include loading up on healthy snacks (otherwise known as lots of veggies) before you attend a holiday party, or keeping healthy snacks nearby at your workplace when you know that the break room table will be full of sugary treats.
Taking the time to fill out all three columns gives you focus going into the holidays, and you should post that paper somewhere where you can see it daily (whether on a fridge or a bathroom mirror).
Don’t skip workouts … seriously!
It’s a classic tale: “I’m too busy to work out, so I can’t,” especially during the holiday season. But think of it this way–what do you deserve?
Do you deserve to move your body every day? (Hopefully, the answer is a resounding YES.)
Beyond just what you deserve, though, there is the science behind exercise and stress relief.
According to the American Psychological Association, 53 percent of adults say they feel good about themselves after exercising, 35 percent say it puts them in a good mood and 30 percent say they feel less stressed.
From heart-pounding HIIT training to zen-inducing Yoga, you deserve to maintain a regular workout schedule that makes you feel good. You really do deserve it.
A few moments of meditation
It’s easy to not meditate because we tend to picture it as a very formal exercise that involves a total clearing of the mind.
But you don’t need to set such a high expectation for meditation.
Taking five minutes at the beginning of the day to set your intention or focus is all that’s really needed. You could also turn off your car radio for a few minutes while driving.
It’s about taking a break from the constant “input” we all experience most of the day. It’s the opportunity to take a few breaths and to be present in the moment.
For more tips on meditating, check out this meditation guide by Zen Habits.
Commit to weekly “you” time
What makes you smile? That’s your “you” time, and you should pencil in at least an hour a week.
It could be a pedicure, massage, bath, nap, going out to a movie, anything that is fulfilling and makes you happy. We have to love and care for ourselves first to best love and care for others.
The next time you push back an opportunity to take care of yourself, try replacing the word “can’t” in your head to the word “won’t.” “I can’t take care of myself,” for example, become “I won’t take care of myself.” Sounds a little different, right?
So, even if an hour a week is impossible, the key is to make purposeful “you” time on a regular basis.
Remind yourself of the reason for the season
Just remember that the holidays were not invented to cause everyone an overabundance of stress. Promise!
Thanksgiving is not about infuriating travel delays or overstuffing ourselves with food, for example. It’s about giving thanks for what we have and spending time with the ones we love.
Christmas is not about taking on massive credit card debt. It’s about connecting mindfully with others, especially our loved ones, and hopefully giving to those who need it.
But either way, the holidays are truly what you make of them. You have the power to take ownership of your feelings and plan for a less stressful season.
And while planning is one of the best ways to navigate expected stress, don’t forget to live in the moment a little as well.