Here's how to keep your cool and enjoy your holidays to the fullest
Between hurrying to score the last parking spot at the mall and preparing your home for out-of-town guests, the holiday season can be mentally exhausting. For women especially, emotions tend to run high as they put pressure on themselves to create picture-perfect gatherings, while holding down jobs and taking care of children.
“During the holidays, our lives become even more stressful as we try to juggle our usual responsibilities with extra holiday preparation and complicated family dynamics,” says Eric Marcus, a psychiatrist in New York. If your household resembles the idealised 1950s' television-version of a family, all of the craziness will culminate in your clan gathered at the hearth, merrily singing Christmas carols. If your family is closer to normal, some tension and conflict will arise during all that family togetherness.
To minimise stress, Margaret Altemus, a psychiatrist suggests making some time for yourself during the holidays. Being alone, even for a half hour or so, can help you feel calmer. Go out by yourself; take a walk or get some exercise. Physical activity helps alleviate stress, and the sunlight can help lift your mood, Dr. Altemus says.
Time for yourself may also mean taking time to be with your friends, who may not push those buttons in the same way your relatives can. The holidays can also be difficult on those who feel isolated. If you are feeling alone, seek out the support of your community, religious or social services. Getting involved with volunteering can help you feel needed and connected.
When it comes to preparing for the holidays, lower your expectations, and remember you will not be able to do all you'd like to do if you had unlimited time, energy, and, perhaps, a household staff. Forget about trying to make handmade gifts for the neighbours, sewing a holiday pageant costume for your child, sending out your greeting cards and learning how to cook a crown roast all in the same week.
Prioritise what is most important for you and your loved ones. Talk with your family about what they value in the celebrations. You may find that your expectations are higher than everyone else's.
For many families, money is tighter than it was in previous years. When buying gifts, don't blow your budget, then spend the next several months worried about paying your credit card bill and regretting the purchases.
If you are starting to feel stressed, ask for help. If it's too much to host the gathering this year, ask someone else to take a turn — they may welcome the chance. If you run out of time to bake, buy dessert or ask guests to bring it.
And, take some time to reflect on what the holiday means to you, the psychiatrists suggest. That may mean reminiscing about happy times with loved ones, focusing on religious observances or thinking about your best moments and accomplishments of the past year.