How To Stress-Bust The Holidays

So you can focus on eating, drinking and (most importantly) being merry.

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stress bust holidays: two women and a man have a holiday cocktail

The holidays are officially in full swing. And yet, it’s possible you’ve noticed a need to stress-bust holidays, maybe a creeping stress overtaking your body during what should be the most wonderful time of the year. Are you the only one with a case of the humbugs?

The short answer is no. It’s actually very common to feel burnt out and overwhelmed during the holiday season, says Dr. Stacy Thomas, a Toronto-based clinical psychologist. And if you’re a woman? There’s a way higher chance that you’re feeling stressed. “Typically, it’s the job of the woman in the family to do most of the preparation,” says Dr. Thomas. “There are such high expectations to make [the holidays] special. It’s such a loaded time of year, and there’s a limited amount of time to get it all done.” So: how to stay healthy? Below, we stress-bust the season’s biggest triggers.

Trigger #1: Financial strain

January is usually when the sticker shock of holiday spending sets in. And chances are, you’ve spent more than you planned. “There is so much commercialism in our culture,” says Dr. Thomas. “There’s a [desire] to make things special while also having a limited budget. [But] ignoring that budget and going overboard results in a lot of regret.”

Tip: Focus on the experience
Dr. Joti Samra, a Vancouver-based clinical psychologist, suggests focusing more on making memories. “I encourage people to sit down with their partners, their kids and their family and come to an agreement. Say, ‘Let’s set limits on what we’re spending,'” says Dr. Samra. Thomas adds that starting new traditions, like a DIY-gift policy, is a great way to shift the focus from presents to the true essence of the season: compassion. “It’s more about the togetherness of the family, and it can relieve some of that financial stress” she says. “Some of the most meaningful, interesting gifts are those that people have really thought about.”

How To Avoid Money Stress During The Holidays — Even If You Overspend
How To Avoid Money Stress During The Holidays — Even If You Overspend

Trigger #2: Family expectations

Your regular family complications get turned up to 11 during the holidays, when it can be challenging to spend enjoyable, quality time with everyone — in-laws, stepparents, kids. “There’s this feeling that somehow all of the conflicts and issues we encounter with our families through the year magically go away at Christmas because we’re supposed to ‘be happy,'” says Dr. Samra. How do we make time to see the people we’d actually like to see?

Tip: Be conscious of your choices
“We have a choice in terms of where we go [and] who we go with and it’s very important not to lose sight of that,” says Samra. Thomas agrees. For activities that would just cause too much turmoil to cancel, Thomas suggests focusing on the ‘why’ behind all of your plans. “All of a sudden, [these choices] feel within your control.”

Trigger #3: Social niceties

On top of your list of family obligations, work schedule, and holiday home prep, you’ve been invited to a colleague’s holiday party. Now, you’d just like to crawl into bed.

Tip: Know your limits
If that extra glass of wine is going to make you feel like crap or you really need that extra hour of sleep, listen to your body. “Be mindful of what behaviours affect you most strongly and try to keep up with those,” says Samra. Also keep in mind that ‘no’ is a full sentence. “You don’t have to say yes to everything,” Samra adds. “Rarely is anyone going to be devastated if you don’t show up somewhere. People move on very quickly.”

Watch: The best ways to save money

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