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5 Strategies to Manage Holiday Stress

Some of us may face emotions other than joy at the holidays, and overwhelm ourselves with how we "should" be feeling. No matter the stressor, here are a few tips to make it through the next month of parties, red Starbucks cups, and long checkout lines.
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A few weeks ago, I woke up to the first real snow of the year in Western New York. As a person who truly enjoys snow, I cleaned off my car and headed to work with a smile. I played Christmas songs in the car to celebrate the coming holiday season (yes, I played Christmas music before Thanksgiving). I brainstormed gifts for family members. I made a plan to crochet a scarf, and the excitement of the season set in. Then I went shopping on a Saturday.

My usual route had turned into bumper-to-bumper traffic. The parking lot was a frenzied dash for the closest open space. The store was overwhelming and packed with things I didn't need but suddenly felt a need to buy. I bought my yarn and vowed to do the rest of my shopping online. I'd rather spend three dollars on shipping than on gas.

We all face stressors at the holidays. Some of these stressors are, like mine, related to shopping and the crowds that turn joy into leaden dread at the checkout line. Some stress may be due to the declining balance in our bank accounts. Some of us may face emotions other than joy at the holidays, and overwhelm ourselves with how we "should" be feeling. No matter the stressor, here are a few tips to make it through the next month of parties, red Starbucks cups, and long checkout lines.

1. Turn off the "to-do" list at night to get some sleep.

Sounds easier than it is, I know. How do I turn off my "to-do" list, you wonder? Try to practice a pre-bedtime routine to wind down before bed and provide a buffer between the busy-ness of your day and the peacefulness of your night. If worries plague you at night, try to build in "worry time" to think through the issues of the day, or the plans for tomorrow, before you even get ready for bed. Then at nighttime, you can focus on what's most important: your sleep.

2. Keep an eye out for cognitive distortions.

What is a cognitive distortion? It's a thought that gets blown out of proportion. For example, if you can't sleep, you may first think "I'll never get to sleep." Then you start to think of how you won't get to sleep, and then tomorrow you won't get everything done, and Christmas will be ruined, and it will all be your fault. That would be a cognitive distortion. Try to take a step back, and look at the facts. What parts of that thought are true? What parts of that thought might not be true? What would you tell a friend if he or she said your thought out loud?

3. Validate your emotions.

Forget what you "should" be feeling. Are you feeling joyous? Okay. Are you feeling sad? That's okay too. Just because the calendar says December doesn't mean you suddenly feel happy all of the time. Take some of the pressure off yourself and validate how you are feeling, regardless of the month on the calendar.

4. Don't just give presents. Be present.

We often act on autopilot, going through our day without noticing our surroundings, our thoughts, our feelings, or our physical selves. Try to be present and notice these things a couple of times a day. At the Wegmans grocery store, every so often they will announce that "it's time for a stretch break." When this happens I take a deep breath and stretch my back before turning down the pasta aisle. When can you give yourself a mindful moment?

5. Remember to re-charge the batteries.

No, I'm not talking about the AA batteries you need for your niece's new toy. I'm talking about YOUR batteries. Think about how you re-charge. Is it by talking with friends? Taking time for yourself? Do you exercise, read a book, cook a nice meal? However you replenish your energy, make sure you are continuing to engage in self-care activities over the holidays.

*Note: This is not intended to replace medical or mental health advice. Please contact your physician or therapist for further help.