Reducing Holiday Stress

Seven ways to actually end up with a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Posted Nov 25, 2017

U.S. government, public domain
Source: U.S. government, public domain

In theory, the holiday season should be less stressful than the rest of the year. During the work day, deadlines may be replaced by festivities. After work, get-togethers with family and friends, accompanied by comforting Christmas music, TV specials, and football games, should calm things further.

Alas, the words “holidays” and “stress” often adjoin. Perhaps these can take the edge off.

Don’t go. Do you go to events out of obligation more perceived by you than real? Would it be wise to offer tactful regrets and do something stress-busting, for example, binge-watch sitcoms, hike (with the dog?) see friends you really would like to see rather than the assemblages you’re forced to be perky with?

De-gift. How silly that we expend so much effort and money to give people stuff they don’t need or often even want? Why not donate to your favorite charity in the names of all the people on your list, except perhaps people who really need the gift you’d buy them? In case you're interested, my favorite charities are:

  • The Society for Neuroscience. While heart disease and cancer get much attention and dollars, brain function from autism to Alzheimer's, cognitive deficits to cognitive enhancement are more under-the-radar yet are critical research areas. For example, an intelligent populus is key to everything from curing disease to saving the environment to furthering world peace.
  • Social and Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG.) We're in an era of redistribution to "the least among us." Programs for high-potential kids have been eviscerated while special education budgets boom. Particularly neglected are gifted kids' social and emotional needs, including anxiety, bullying, and depression. That's SENG's focus.
  • Giving money or time directly to a needy person. True, you don't get a tax deduction but you get maximum assurance that your money or time goes to a worthy purpose and one whose benefits you can see.

Avoid controversy. Holiday parties can be long and so, after the small talk has been exhausted, it can be tempting to venture into controversial territory. Alas, especially in our polarized times, that can be fraught. Very few people’s minds get changed in discussions of politics, religion, race, gender, etc. Far more likely, such a discussion will dampen or even drown the holiday spirit. Want to de-stress? Staying light can help.

Throw a low-stress party.  Parties needn’t be exhausting. Won’t you and your guests derive the most of the benefit by making it potluck? Make your contribution something you can buy or make in advance.  And ask early arriving guests to help serve. Many guests, especially shy ones, welcome doing that. That way, when guests arrive, you can connect with them rather than have one eye on the stove, one on the guests, and one on passing the hors d'oeuvres. And at the end of the party, accept offers to help clean up. And if no one does, there’s nothing wrong with asking. Many people would be glad to.

Find your spiritual center. Let’s say you think religion is bunk and tarot cards and crystals doubly so. That doesn’t preclude your deriving spirituality’s de-stressing benefit. It requires defining spirituality as that which is larger than yourself. How can that reduce your stress? It provides perspective. Your having gained five pounds and looking “fat” in that dress, your holiday turkey coming out drier than the Sahara, your not getting that year-end bonus. From a spiritual perspective, they’re probably trivial. As they like to say in the Bay Area: Those are first-world problems. Keeping such spirituality front and center can keep your stress back and off to the side.

Not-Rockin’ New Year's Eve. Restaurants view New Year's Eve as a mega profit opp—Charge a few hundred dollars a couple, give ‘em a paper hat and noisemaker (wholesale cost 10 cents), dinner, and a loud DJ.  A quiet New Year’s Eve at home is less stressful, not just because of less noise but because you can, with a friend(s), share thoughtful year-end reflections, serve the food and drink you really like, for an unstressful amount of money.

Wait ‘til next year.  As year-end approaches, many people lament their hopes unrealized. You may be able to replace stressful lamentation with hopeful preparation by starting to work on a goal with easy baby steps.

The takeaway

On some level, some people relish the holidays’ sturm und drang. But if you don’t, these ideas could reduce your stress enough that you might actually have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.