10 Tips to De-stress During the Holidays

Image from Unsplash

During the holiday season, everyone is busy. There is so much to do. Everyone seems to be rushing, worrying, preparing, planning, scheduling, and navigating last minute tasks and responsibilities. Some may feel overwhelmed, exhausted, guilty, angry, or even tearful. For those who have lost a loved one recently – or anytime in the past – , this time of year can be especially challenging.

However, you must take care of yourself. Otherwise, you will become worn out, and your resilience will weaken. Symptoms of depression and anxiety (which no one can actually escape in this lifetime) can become exacerbated by additional stress. Symptoms that are inflamed by stress are difficult to endure, especially with the added pressure of the holidays.

Here are 10 recommendations for ways to de-stress during the holidays. These suggestions are nothing new, but they are worth repeating. They are also not as easy as they may appear at first glance. Read these tips and follow them. They are important – especially, if you find yourself feeling down.

  1. Say NO. Don’t feel obligated to say yes to every party invite, every dinner, every holiday activity you’re invited to. If you don’t feel up to going, politely say, “no.” Don’t delay your answer, do so ASAP. Thank the person for including you. If you have another commitment, mention it first and then politely refuse. This approach will set the tone for your refusal as opposed to having the recipient wonder, for a brief moment, why you are refusing. If you are interested in connecting with the person, offer to meet at another date and time. Close with positive wishes for the occasion.
  2. Rest. The ability to relax is important in effectively managing stress and anxiety. When we feel stressed, our bodies react with what is called the “fight or flight” response. Our muscles become tense, our heart and respiration rates increase, and other physiological systems become taxed. Without the ability to relax, chronic stress or anxiety can lead to burnout, anger, irritability, depression, medical problems, and more. Allowing yourself to relax deeply is the exact opposite of the “fight or flight” response. Relaxation exercises can be a powerful weapon against stress.
  3. Delegate. Many people will need to let go of the “if I want something done right, I have to do it myself” mentality or “I don’t want to bother anybody else.” You need to take a deep breath and just let go. Realize that when you delegate something, it’s now out of your hands – and that can be a good thing. As hard as it may seem, wait until the final product before judging how the delegation is going. If the very thought of delegation makes you uneasy, you should start by delegating a single, low priority task. As you see the job can be completed successfully without you, you’ll gain confidence in the process and can move on to delegating another task, and then another.
  4. Accept help. While it may sound simple enough, accepting help is something that is extremely challenging for many of us at one time or another. It can be especially hard for those of us who believe that seeking help undermines our independence and our ability to cope. Remember the goal is to thrive and not just survive.
  5. Breathe. Deep breathing is essential daily. When we feel stressed, it is common for our rate of breathing to increase. We also tend to breathe in a shallow manner, more highly in our chest. A deep breathing exercise allows us to take fuller, slower breaths that reflect a genuinely relaxed state. There are helpful online applications to help and remind you to do this throughout your day.
  6. Laugh. A good laugh has great immediate effects on the body. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it also induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can stimulate many organs and enhance your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulate your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increase the endorphins that are released by your brain. Most importantly, laughter can activate and relieve your stress response.
  7. Don’t eat or drink too much. When under stress, we often immediately reach for food or alcohol to self soothe. But this fix is very temporary, and ultimately causes more problems. In reality we may just need to pull back, rest more, laugh, and breathe.
  8. Listen to music. When it becomes hard to find your way out of the downward spiral caused by overwhelming stress and anxiety, try turning to music. Music can quickly shift our mood, affecting our subconscious mind where troublesome negative thoughts feed on our fears and fuel the fires of stress. Listening to music is a relatively inexpensive, quick-acting solution that’s almost always available.
  9. Keep holiday expectations realistic. We set our expectations and we can choose to set them idealistically high, unintelligibly low, or somewhere in the middle. In certain circumstances, having no expectations can be exciting, because it means you have no idea of what’s coming next. You leave yourself open to being pleasantly surprised and you can’t be disappointed, but equally, you have no motivation. But if you set your expectations too high, you’re more than likely to end up disappointed and frustrated. But keeping your expectations realistic is critical; otherwise, they can take a toll on your emotions further down the line.
  10. Practice self-compassion. Self-Compassion can be learned. Practicing self-compassion utilizes the moments that surround us rather than simply just tolerating those moments. But self-compassion starts with us first. Go into this holiday season trying to find out more about yourself. Use that energy and no matter what you find, love what makes you you. It is not about perfection, but instead it is about kindheartedness, empathy, and self-love. Self-compassion is a practice that can help us all become less self-critical, and perhaps even achieve more and give more with the right spirit of mind.

Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital offers a variety of behavioral health services for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. A variety of support groups for patients and their families are also offered. From assessment and admission through treatment and discharge, all services are provided in a structured, supportive and safe environment. The medical team at Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital is committed to meeting the needs of each client at each stage of treatment.

For additional information on Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital, contact 305-355-7148 or visit www.jacksonhealth.org.

Jennifer Barton, Psy.D, is an Adult Behavioral Medicine & Rehabilitation Resident at Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital specializing in rehabilitation and neuropsychology.Jennifer Barton