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4 Ways to Reduce Your Stress This Holiday Season

Find out how to maintain your sanity at this crazy time of year.

Although this is one of my favorite times of the year, it can be downright stressful for most people. Students face intense final exams, professors have a mountain of papers to grade, and people in all professions have deadlines, parties, activities, presents to buy, traditions to keep, and a million other things to do. I’ll admit that I’m feeling some stress right now myself and so although I actually have 8 ideas to share with you, I’m going to divide this post into two parts: I’ll cover the first four ideas today and the last four ideas on Thursday.  Here goes.

1. Make a List, Prioritize, and Plan

 A lot of the stress we experience comes from just sensing that there is more to do than we can handle in the time we have. It can be extremely helpful to just make a list of everything that you need to do and everywhere you need to be. Once you have such a list, you can breathe a little sigh of relief that at least you have collected all your thoughts and stresses into one place. Next, prioritize the list you have made by putting 1s in front of the most urgent/important tasks, 2s in front of those that aren’t as urgent, and 3s in front of the least urgent tasks. Finally, make a plan and strategy to attack the most urgent/important tasks first and follow your plan.

2. Simplify Your Life

I’d encourage you to go over you the list you made and really decide if that is even something you should even worry about doing at all. Sometimes we get really ambitious during the holidays, we think that we have to do X, Y, and Z for Christmas to be special and meaningful. Sometimes it’s best just to simplify your life and cut down on the amount of activities you are doing—especially if it’s stressing you out. Just ask yourself, would everyone be really offended if I didn’t send out Christmas cards this year (probably most people wouldn’t even notice)? Do I really need to feel obligated to get presents for all of these neighbors who then feel obligated to get me a present? Is this tradition really worth all the time and stress? Is there a simpler or less time-consuming tradition we could replace it with? Asking yourself these kinds of questions can help you to feel better about just outright crossing several things off your list altogether, alleviating much of the stress you are feeling.

3. Get Some Exercise

In an earlier post about living a balanced life, I discussed the importance of sharpening the saw. Sometimes we push and push to do more and more without really taking care of ourselves and we become like the dull saw that is worn from overuse and not good for much. It sometimes can be easy to forget to exercise, especially when it’s really cold outside. Maybe try a new activity that capitalizes on cold weather such as snoeshoing, cross-country skiing, sledding, ice-skating, caroling, etc. If you’d rather not be outside, look into some local or university gyms or get yourself a stationary bike or stair stepper as an early Christmas present and exercise while watching your traditional holiday favorites! Make sure to plan ahead regarding when you will fit some exercise (even if it’s just 10 minutes) into your daily schedule this holiday season. I can’t think of much of anything better for alleviating stress than exercise!

4. Lower Your Expectations

Sometimes we just have far too high of expectations for the holidays and this can add significant stress to our lives. Happiness researcher Sonja Lyubiomirsky in her post, “Why Aren’t we Happier During the Holidays?” suggests that we look forward to the holidays all year long and make huge plans with gigantic expectations. However, this is not always a good thing. She says that “Science shows, however, that high expectations are frequently both erroneous and toxic. Toxic because they may lead to letdown and even depression. Erroneous because we focus too much on the salient high points (e.g., the vacation, voyage, or feast) and too little on the quotidian chores, uplifts, and hassles that are what influence our happiness the most. Researchers have found that annoyances are worse than calamities and that daily delights impact our well-being more than major events.” The holidays are full of extra hassles and challenges that we often forget about. If we can lower our expectations and expect the hassles and setback--even plan for them--we will be much less stressed this holiday season.

On Thursday I will describe four more ideas for reducing your holiday stress this year. Until then, remember to make a list, simplify life, exercise, and lower your expectations!

Nathaniel Lambert, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. 

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