5 Tips to Handle Stress During the Holidays

By Robin Madell (San Francisco)

You know the drill: the holidays are here again already, and not only must you keep up with everything already on your plate, but you must somehow add another long list of holiday-related deliverables. The combination of everyday stressors (like juggling end-of-year work projects and client meetings) with seasonal-specific ones (like holiday parties, gift shopping, and extra cooking) can add up to some overwhelmed emotions.

To help readers of The Glass Hammer more successfully navigate the busy weeks until New Year’s, we asked therapist and author Diane Lang, who is an adjunct professor at Montclair State University and Dover Business College, for five stress-busting tips that will help you stay cool when it’s cold outside.

Tip 1: Remember What It’s Really About
The holidays are about spending quality time with family, friends, and loved ones. If you’re finding yourself overly stressed around holiday time, your expectations may be at fault, and you may be forgetting the reason for the season. “We try for perfection at the holidays and we tend to forget what the holidays are really about,” says Lang. “Remind yourself that the holidays are about being close to your loved ones and that everything else comes second.”

Tip 2: Take Care of You, Too
The bustle and demands of the holiday season can make us forget about ourselves. While focusing on others can of course be a good thing, when we neglect our own needs as a result, the end result is stress and burnout. “We worry so much about setting a nice table, buying and cooking the food, decorating the house, buying the presents, etc., that we forget to take a time out and spend some quiet time alone,” says Lang. “Make sure to put yourself on your priority list — and put yourself high up on the list. The more time you put aside for you, the healthier and happier you will feel this holiday season.”

Tip 3: Change Your Perspective
The way that we think about things plays a large role in our experience of them. If you expect that the holidays are going to be difficult and stressful instead of going with the flow of the added intensity, you’ll enjoy the season less. “Happiness is how you see it,” says Lang. “For example, if you choose to think that being single means you can’t enjoy the holidays, then that’s exactly what will happen — but if you go into the holiday season with a positive attitude, it will make the holidays even better. Your happiness during the holidays is never dependent on anyone else but you.”

Tip 4: Watch the Weather
With shorter, darker days and blustery weather, some people find themselves feeling blue. Seasonal affective disorder can add to the stresses of the season if you don’t take proper precautions. “If you know that the cold weather and shorter days affect you and cause you to have negative moods, then do some preventive work,” advises Lane. “Talk to your doctor about options, seek counseling before the change of weather and holidays start, set up a support system to help when you’re feeling down, invest in light boxes, and plan a vacation to a warm destination to give yourself something to look forward to.”

Tip 5: Ask for Help
With so much to accomplish, there is no reason to try to tackle everything on your own. Make “delegate” your favorite word this holiday season. For example, ask dinner guests to prepare a dish or a dessert — and don’t feel guilty about it. “Each year have everyone make it a point to help each other so everyone can enjoy the holidays,” says Lane. “This can also be a great way to clean up after the holidays. Delegate the clean up — from the dishes to vacuuming the house. If everyone chips in, it won’t be so bad.”

In addition to these five tips, Lane recommends that you pay attention to signs that can serve as red flags to alert you to trouble. If you notice any of the following symptoms despite your best attempts to take the advice above, then it’s time to make changes:

  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Eating too much or skipping meals
  • Irritability, moodiness, fatigue, or exhaustion
  • Panic attack symptoms, like dizziness, chest pain, racing heart, headache, nausea, or hot/cold flashes
  • Physical signs such as headaches, stomachaches, joint pain, or catching frequent colds and illnesses

“These symptoms are all warning signs of too much stress and anxiety in our life,” says Lane. “This is a sign to slow down and take a time out.”