Tips for Managing Holiday Stress and Expectations

By Michelle Dawes, Wellness Coordinator and Account Manager

The holiday season is around the corner and many people are already experiencing mixed emotions and additional stress. The picture-perfect holidays we see in commercials and movies can cause us to have unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. When real life doesn’t match up, we’re likely to feel disappointed, burned out, and fatigued.

Here are a few tips that can help you enjoy what’s most important this holiday season: 

1. Stick to a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
As a health and wellness coach, of course, I would say that. However, with all the holiday events to attend, gifts to buy, and food to prepare, these healthy routines are often the first to go, which can negatively impact your physical, mental, and emotional health.

To maintain your well-being throughout the holidays, make a plan to maintain good nutrition and physical activity before the season begins. Define what this will look like for you and give yourself some grace if you fall short.

The colder weather and shorter daylight hours can trigger “winter onset depression.” People with this condition often crave more sugar because it can have an immediate mood-boosting effect. Over time, too much sugar can lead to weight gain, systemic inflammation, and increased depressive symptoms. If you struggle to get back on track, reach out for support.

2. Plan a budget and focus on time together.
Most of us are feeling a financial pinch this year. But instead of focusing on the factors you cannot control, focus on what you can control. Decide with your family what your priorities will be and commit to a budget. Consider a family gift exchange, limiting the number of gifts you buy, or making gifts. Be intentional about enjoying all the seemingly “small” moments. Laughter and gratitude can be excellent medicine for combatting stress and truly enjoying the season. 

3. Be honest with yourself and set boundaries.
The holidays can be emotionally challenging, especially for those who are missing a loved one. Acknowledge your feelings and know that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling, whether that’s a friend or family member, a community or faith group, or a professional.

Also, consider reaching out to someone who may be lonely. Volunteering and performing acts of kindness help cultivate joy and fulfillment for yourself and others.

Finally, it’s also OK to set boundaries with difficult family members. Can you limit the amount of time you spend with those members? Lean on your past experiences to know what a healthy limit is for you and then plan accordingly.

As families grow and change, so do holiday traditions. Grieve your losses and be intentional about prioritizing your self-care throughout the season. Also, keep in mind your Assistance Program can provide confidential support.

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