The holiday season is the happiest time of the year, right? Unfortunately, for too many people, it’s fraught with anxiety, worry, and stress of every kind: financial, emotional, work, and time. According to a survey by Think Finance, forty-five percent of people would prefer to skip Christmas entirely. In addition, nearly twenty-five percent of Americans report feeling extreme stress levels when the end-of-year holidays approach, with 69 percent feeling stressed by lack of time, 69 percent feeling stressed by lack of money, and 51 percent feeling stressed by the pressure to give or receive gifts. Such feelings are certainly not aligned with the reason for the season.
Over time, stress can cause such serious health complications as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and anxiety, and the holiday season can exacerbate risk factors. Research from Sweden identified that the odds of a heart attack increased by nearly 40 percent on Christmas Eve.
This season, don’t let the holidays—or your health—be ruined by stressing over the big or little seasonal details. We’ve got five tips to help you prioritize and recontextualize your seasonal commitments so that you can truly enjoy the last month of the year and your time with friends and family.
- Create and Stick to a Budget. For many families, the cost of holiday gift-giving, travel, and hosting puts an uncomfortable pressure on their finances at year’s end. Create a holiday budget and stick to it. Include how much money you will spend on gifts for all your friends and family. If you’re part of a large family with lots of little ones, consider a white elephant or Secret Santa exchange to limit how much everyone spends on one another. The goal of the holidays should be to spend time together—not to spend money on each other.
- Learn When to Say, No. If it hasn’t already, your calendar is about to blow up with holiday commitments. There are parties, shopping trips, cookie-baking, gift-wrapping, caroling, eight-days of menorah lighting, school concerts, volunteering and, simply, not enough time. Accept that you can’t be everywhere and you don’t have to RSVP yes to every invitation. Set boundaries with your friends and family and make sure you’re not putting too much stress on your calendar and spreading yourself too thin. You won’t enjoy any event in which you’re feeling overly stressed and run-down.
- Stick to Your Routine. When your schedule gets full, it’s even more important to take time for yourself. Don’t give up you healthy routine during the month of December. Make sure you are exercising regularly, eating healthfully (extra cookie or two excluded), getting enough sleep at night, and making time for mindfulness practices, yoga, or meditation—whatever helps you to relax.
- Scale Down. If your holiday stress comes from trying to do too much, sit down and prioritize where you most enjoy spending your time. Maybe bake three dozen cookies this year instead of five, or send holiday cards from an online stationery service rather than hand-writing them individually. No one can make everything from scratch and personalize every holiday detail—not even Mrs. Claus. Be realistic and cut back where you can.
- Get Out and Get Some Sun. The days may be shorter, but you still need to get in your Vitamin D during the winter, especially during stressful holiday months. Weather-permitting, get outside daily, even if only for ten minutes. Walk your dog, take a short hike, or take a mid-day stroll around your business complex with your co-workers. Exposure to natural sunlight boosts the production of feel-good serotonin, helping you to ward-off holiday blues.
Remember, most importantly, that the holidays are about spending time with your loved ones, reflecting on what makes you feel grateful, and planning ahead for a new year. By making time for yourself, maintaining your healthy practices, and not overbooking your schedule, you can enjoy the very best of the holidays, without the stress. Cheers to that.