38% of Americans report higher levels of stress during the holiday season.
According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of people surveyed said their stress increased during the holiday season. In addition to that, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 64% of those living with mental illness felt that their conditions worsened around the holidays.
If it's the most wonderful time of the year, then why are we so stressed out? Along with the joy and excitement of the holidays comes increased expectations and responsibilities.
In a few fast and furious weeks we experience a lot of new sources of stress:
The financial pressure of gift giving,
Social pressure to spend time with everyone, and
The awkwardness and discomfort that can come with large gatherings.
Our lives are already a difficult balancing act, and the holiday season adds on a few extra emotionally-charged layers. This month's blog offers some easy strategies to get the most of the holidays this year.
Nobody wants to be the bah-humbug at the family gathering or work party, and we deserve the relish the joy and love of the holidays.
1) Establish a budget for the season....and stick to it! One of the biggest sources of stress for people is money, so please - I implore you - set a budget for spending during the holidays. Do this before you hit the stores and outlets. Make a list of everyone you plan to buy gifts for, set a budget, and write down gift ideas that fit into this budget. My list is on excel, so I can easily summarize my spending and see how much I have leftover.
Don't forget to include travel expenses, meals out, charitable donations, etc. Your holiday budget should capture the entirety of your spending for the season. Cards and stamps, hostess gifts, and gas for travel are all little things you might not think about in the moment, but you'll be responsible for paying off next month.
It's normal to sometimes feel intimidated by or nervous about money. That fear comes from a lack of understanding and control. Mitigate this by taking charge of the situation - plan ahead, document and monitor your spending. Be realistic about what you can afford. Check the status of your budget when you feel an emotional impulse to make a purchase. If the expenditure doesn't align with your budget, then it's a hard no. If you are prone to emotional spending (we all are sometimes), identify a number that you're comfortable with spending on impulse buys and put it in your budget.
Remember...it is your presence that matters most to your loved ones, not your presents.
2) Set reasonable social expectations. I have a lot of family and friends who live out of town. With all of my commitments and responsibilities, it's unrealistic for me to be able to see all of them within a year let alone in one month. And I'll admit it, I feel a lot of guilt about that when the holidays roll around. I recently dedicated a whole journal entry to analyzing that guilt. After letting all of my feelings out in my journal, I put my analytical hat back on. This is a logistical problem, and as a scientist I'm pretty good at solving those types of problems.
My parents are snow birds, and I won't be able to see them for months. So naturally, I'll be enjoying a Feliz Navidad with them. My abuela is 96, so she's another top priority. I already have a weekend in January earmarked to visit her in New Jersey, and another weekend at the end of January to meet my cousin's new baby in Long Island. Along the way home from Long Island I'll stop and visit my best friend. I won't see most of these loved ones in December, but the time I spend with them during the off season will be even more precious because I'll be able to focus all of my love and attention on them.
Don't be afraid to tell people that you are stretched thin and that you'd love to see them after the hustle and bustle of the season. Let them know that they matter to you, and that by pushing things back you'll have more quality time together. Too many holiday party invites? Skip some, or all. I'm not participating in any large holiday events before my travels because I don't want to risk exposure to illness that could prevent me from being able to visit my parents.
Let the people in your life know that your social calendar is booked, but that you look forward to seeing them when your schedules align.
3) Make space for you. I'm a recovering over-giver. I used to always put others needs and wishes before my own. That is because I assigned myself the responsibility to keep everyone around me happy. That's a completely unreasonable assignment, and will be a great topic for another blog post.
I recognize now that my needs matter and that I won't be able to bring my best self to my family, friends, and relationships if I don't take care of myself first. I deserve to feel my best, and they deserve to be around someone who isn't stressed out and grumpy.
To help frame your perspective from a positive space, begin and end your day with gratitude. Write down three things each morning that you are grateful for. Keep that list on your phone, and refer back to it when you are feeling stressed. Visualization can be very powerful, so include a photos with your lists. Review the list again before bed to help mitigate sleep-interrupting stress. Make this a habit in the New Year!
If you'd like more support on anxiety, managing expectations, or any other challenges, please don't hesitate to email me directly here to schedule a free consultation.
Dr. Lori Ana Valentín is an analytical chemist who holds doctorate and master’s degrees in chemistry from Binghamton University as well as a bachelor of science in biochemistry from SUNY Fredonia. She applies her perspective as a scientist to develop unique wellness solutions.