When the holidays come around, people are naturally and culturally driven to connect; which seems healthy, but it can be hard for those who are actively pursuing good physical habits and an overall healthy lifestyle. Cleaning up your eating, living mindfully, “protecting your peace,” recovering from a lifestyle or substance addiction — all these noble changes can be unintentionally sabotaged by the words or old perspectives of your family or people from your past who “knew you when…” But, thankfully, they don’t have to be!
Here are 12 simple ways to reduce your holiday stress and inspire your friends or family with your healthy choices this season:
#1. Choose not to host this year’s festivities.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, there are no extra “brownie points'' received for the person who hosts the holidays every year. So, It’s okay to give yourself permission to pass the torch on hosting this year! The stress of hosting any family event can have a negative effect on your physical, mental, and emotional health. And this can ultimately have a negative effect on your family’s overall experience of the holidays.
There is nothing wrong with finding the courage to tell your friends or family that you need a break from hosting this year. Rotate the responsibility and help others pass on your family traditions!
#2. Teach someone else how you do your holiday tasks.
It’s no secret that certain family members have their holiday “signatures.” Your aunt makes the best pecan pie, your cousin makes the best macaroni and cheese, and your grandmother always makes the turkey… and you probably have your task, too. But over time, you can come to feel chained to this unspoken, holiday expectation. Which is why you should teach someone else how to do it – your child, a small cousin, a spouse, a friend, anyone.
Not only does “teaching” this holiday task bring new life to the process, but it is also a great way to spend some quality time with someone that you love. This sort of teaching moment is exactly how traditions get passed on to the next generation.
#3. Try sitting at the “kids’ table” for a while.
The kids table is actually the best place to be during holiday functions. Not only are there very few political discussions, but they tend to have a lot more carefree conversation than the adults’ table.
If you feel yourself getting tense or feeling some anxiety because of the conversation (spoken or non) at the adults table, we recommend taking a seat with the younger members of your family to regain some perspective.
#4. Plan for opportunities to recharge your social battery.
Holiday celebrations can be long, drawn out, and full of social interaction. Which is great – as long as you have the capacity to handle all of the family dynamics and conversation that takes place.
If you know that your social battery will run out sooner than others, try staying in a hotel instead of the home where everything is being hosted so that you and your immediate family members can rest and “regroup” before heading once more into the holiday fray.
If a hotel is out of the question for you, then pack some warm winter clothes, warm shoes, and find some time to step outside of the house for a bit.
#5. Initiate some physical activities.
Movement (or “proprioception”) is a great way to relieve some of your holiday stress. Try suggesting to some of your friends or family members to take a pre or post-meal walk to relieve some of the physical and mental tension that tends to build up over the holidays.
Like our mothers always told us, it’s best to do this 30 or so minutes before or after you eat so that your body has time to digest your food.
#6. Try forgiving your friends or family for any past holiday hurts.
This great quote about holding grudges relates to a very important and effective “holiday stress reliever” : forgiveness.
Holding a grudge is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the other person dies of smoke inhalation. (Chris Hodges, Church of the Highlands)
Conflict, hardship, and painful moments come with living life in a family or close friend group… and while reconciliation may never be possible (or hoped for), forgiving someone for what has already happened is a huge step in letting yourself move forward from the pain or suffering that you once felt toward that friend or family member. Remember this: holding a grudge really only hurts you.
#7. Try the “presence over presents” perspective this year.
Ask yourself this question: “When I think about my childhood, what do I remember most – the gifts I received or the memories that I had with the people giving the gifts?”
Realizing that the social and cultural pressure around “Santa’s Budget” isn’t the only thing that matters during Christmas time could be the best way to relieve some of your holiday financial stress. As much as your kids would love that “big ticket” item they’ve sent you a link to – they will grow up cherishing the memories that you share with them during the holidays so much more.
A good rule of thumb when feeling pressured to buy something out of your price range is asking the question: “Will this item be useful or cherished over the next 5 to 10 years?” This will not only help you cut back on frivolous items that get only a few uses, but it will also help you increase the quality and thought of your gift-giving this year. And when you’re not sure what to buy, write a letter or plan something for you to enjoy together!
#8. Appreciate your family’s holiday décor (because the Hallmark look is great, but it’s also not reality).
We’ve all done it… you look around your house after deciding to host your family’s holiday events and think: “I guess I need new decorations.”
As amazing as that Walmart or Target run feels at the moment, there is something to be said for the simplicity of enjoying your family’s company for the holidays without stressing about your house looking like it’s straight out of a Hallmark movie. The people who love you and enjoy spending time with you won’t be paying attention to how new your Thanksgiving or Christmas decor is!
#9. Take time to prioritize mental and spiritual rest.
Counter to the America’s Christmas anthem, “Run Run Rudolph,” the holiday season should be a time to slow down and remember the year that you’ve spent with the people whom you love most. A great way to reduce seasonal stress is by prioritizing some mental, physical, and spiritual rest.
This could look like spending more time reading, journaling and praying in faith; sharing this year’s testimony with someone; or even simply attending services at your local place of worship. Fellowship is a vital part of our spiritual health.
#10. Be sure to bring a host or hostess gift.
Did you know that giving a gift can actually release oxytocin (the “love hormone”)? Giving a gift to your host or hostess this year can actually leave you feeling more connected, happier, and less-stressed.
And if money is an issue, a simple card with a heart-felt note can achieve the same result as a physical gift (and is a nice touch for those whose love language is “words of encouragement.”)
#11. Try putting a positive spin on family discussions this year.
Words have the power to make or break a family gathering – there is no doubt about it. But negativity and fear of the future doesn’t have to be the primary topic of conversation around you!
If you catch your friends or family leaning on the negative side of things, try politely redirecting the conversation in a positive direction. Also, instead of gossip, try empathizing with the person’s current situation! While this may not ensure the conversation continues, it will reduce the amount of negative thoughts that you have to consider this holiday season. Remember this: joyful people speak about joyful things!
#12. Be helpful and supportive to your host or hostess.
Just because you’re not hosting the party yourself, doesn’t mean that you can’t help in some very important ways. Before getting to your host or hostess’s home, check to see if there is anything that they forgot that you can bring to help! Or, once you’ve arrived, ask if there is anything that you can do to help – stirring, taking the trash out, distracting the children, setting the table, “taste testing,” and/or just being there for their moral support!
Taking your mind off of you and/or your situation can greatly improve your overall mood and put a smile on the face of others.
Spending time with family during the holidays ranks as one of the most stressful events of the year. Many different aspects contribute to this stress—too much noise, too little exercise, eating the wrong foods that trigger mood swings, boredom, comparisons, jealousy, personal conflict with family members, overspending financially, and so on. But this does not have to be your story for this year!