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8 Types of Holiday Stress (and how to handle them)

I absolutely love the holidays, but they always come with at least a couple stressball meltdowns. I might have already had one when my whipped cream wasn’t working out to take to a friend’s Thanksgiving party last week. We all deal with stress every day, but sometimes the holidays get to be way too much, and we need to recognize what we’re feeling and take some new measures to stay even-keeled.

Here are eight types of holiday stress and ideas for how to combat them:

Spending time with relatives you can’t stand

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Even if you love your family, togetherness can be too much at times. And many of us have relatives that make us uncomfortable or are just unpleasant to be around. Even if they’re easy to avoid most of the year, it’s tough to opt out of a family holiday gathering (although I would never blame you for that!).

What to try: Practice your boundary-setting phrases. There’s nothing wrong with politely declining to talk about politics with your weird uncle or just needing some time to yourself. “I need some time to recoup by myself” or “I need to grab a drink and sit down for a minute” or “That’s not something I’m comfortable talking about” can all buy you some time alone.

Tight budgeting for holiday gifts

I don’t know about you, but it seems like my gift budget is getting spread thinner every year. I don’t want to get everyone something cheap, but it’s hard to afford lavish gifts for everyone who’s important to you, and all that put together can add up to a lot of stress.

What to try: Get on those Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals, or keep an eye out for coupons. The Honey plugin for your browser can help you buy at the best prices. You can also check out offers available through your credit cards, think about re-gifting, or offer trades (e.g. you make all the holiday pies for your BFF and they give you some of their homemade candles to gift to everyone in your office). Basically, get creative!

Too many things on your to-do list

There’s so much to do during the holidays: attend all the parties, make all the food, decorate, buy gifts, and the list really does go on. Did you know that a study found that spending time on Pinterest can actually be stressful? This is your gentle reminder that everything you do this holiday season doesn’t have to be handmade, from-scratch, and Pinterest-perfect.

What to try: There’s that old saying: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” Prioritize your self-nourishment so you can knock out the to-do list. Or maybe even realize that half the stuff on the list isn’t that important after all.

Keeping up with everyone’s dietary restrictions

This one goes both ways. If you’re hosting, you want to make sure everyone has plenty of food they can and want to eat. If you’re a person with dietary restrictions, you don’t want to be a bother, but you also want to, um, not starve. I’m vegan and I don’t really eat sugar (I promise I’m still fun though), and I’ve given up on my family ever really understanding what that means.

What to try: Sure, you might offer some gluten-laden, meaty dishes, but you’ll probably naturally have something for most folks. If you’re worried about it, ask everyone to bring their favorite dish! Folks will likely love to contribute, and it eases the stress on your guests. If you’re a person with dietary restrictions, you can even offer to bring a dish or two of your own.

Feeling like food is your enemy

Food is probably the best part of the holidays. OK, definitely. But also, most of us have grown up with some level of guilt or shame around what and how we eat. Many of us have disordered eating in our pasts or are chronic dieters that feel like we’re walking through a minefield when we see all the holiday sweets and goodies.

What to try: Spend some time looking into intuitive eating or Health At Every Size or other movements and ideas that support listening to your body and enjoying the food you want. Take a few deep breaths and try to think of food as your friend. Because it is!

Meeting a partner’s family for the first time

Feeling like you’re on display and being judged is never fun. Especially if you’re more of an introvert and meeting new people zaps all your energy, hanging out with your sweetie’s fam can be much.

What to try: Bring a gift, chill out, and know that your partner’s opinion of you matters way more than what their parents think. And you’re probably pretty awesome and they’ll love you anyways.

Nostalgia and grief

Holidays are hard if you’ve recently lost someone or if your life looks drastically different from what it used to or what you want it to. The weirdest things might send you off, and you might not even realize how overwhelmed you are until you hit that way-beyond-capacity point. You’re not alone, but it can easily feel like you are.

What to try: Find a way to process these overwhelming feelings, maybe through journaling or exercise or therapy or yoga or whatever works for you. Have a list of grounding ideas ready to go when you need them.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

SAD is, admittedly, more than just holiday stress or “winter blues.” SAD is basically seasonal depression that comes up when the days get shorter and grayer. It can involve all of the above stresses, changes in your serotonin levels, changes in your melatonin levels, and lots of other things. People who already have depression are especially susceptible, so SAD can be a real double whammy.

What to try: Therapy, meds, or really even one of those fancy lamps. Just recognize what’s happening and reach out for support. I know it’s hard, but it will help.

OK, y’all! What do you find stressful during the holidays, and what are you go-to things for stress relief?

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  1. Pála Margrét

    Pála Margrét

    December 2, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    A good post for this time of year! This year I´m spending 2 weeks with 22 of my closest family in one house in a foreign country! Already determined to bring my yoga mat and my headphones, to create my alone time, even though I am surrounded by people!

    1. Avatar

      Alex Edwards

      December 2, 2017 at 2:21 pm

      That’s a lot of family time! I know you’ll have your alone-time outlets perfectly planned though 🙂

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