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Does Holiday Stress Wear You Out?

Here are some tips to deal with it.

Key points

  • Holidays during the pandemic have been different, but they do not have to be more stressful.
  • Organizing activities such as shopping, preparation, and cooking ahead of time can help reduce stress.
  • Families can decide together to avoid topics that are controversial or trigger difficult emotions.

Stress is not good for the brain. No doubt about it. It causes a release of more cortisol (the stress hormone) than the body can absorb which can lead to many undesirable effects such as wearing down the brain’s ability to work properly. Holidays seem to be quite stressful for most people, even in “normal” pre-pandemic times. Since the pandemic started, our lives have been changed forever and we have had to adjust to the “new normal.” With the many everyday challenges we all are experiencing, the holidays will be different, but they do not have to be more stressful. It is up to us how we deal with the upcoming challenges of the holiday times. We can always make it less stressful. Here are a few tips.

Barbara Koltuska-Haskin
Source: Barbara Koltuska-Haskin

1. Do not strive for perfection

Nothing is perfect in this world. In these difficult, still-pandemic times after almost two years, when everything is different, a lot is unknown and supply chains are not working well, we do not have to be perfect at all. Good enough holidays are OK.

2. Organize

Organizing is key. Take some time to work on the written plan and decide when you will do what. For example, decide when you will shop for gifts, clean the house, shop for holiday food, etc. It does not have to be long or elaborate, just to the point. Plan your meals first and then do the shopping list and stick to it to avoid last-minute stressful shopping for ingredients. Remember that some ingredients may be difficult to find in stores this year, but most of them can be replaced by similar ones. The healthier alternative is to use herbs from your garden (I do it all the time) or find them in community farmer's markets.

3. Delegate

You do not have to do everything by yourself. If you are hosting a family gathering, delegate some of the cooking. It can be a potluck kind of a meal. For the dishes that you have to do at your house, get help from your spouse, kids, and in-house guests. Do not accept “I do not know how.” Give them short written instructions to follow and include them in cleaning teams after meals.

4. Take time for yourself

Have a rest and make sure to include breaks from shopping, cleaning, and cooking during the busy days. Even a few minutes of rest and deep breathing can make a difference. If you can, do it outside. Fresh air will rejuvenate you. When you feel exhausted, it is OK to have a 20-minute nap. A “coffee nap” may be a good idea. To do it, have a cup of coffee before the nap and after 20 minutes you should get up rejuvenated. Do not forget about walking. Having a brisk walk after a meal will keep you in good shape.

5. Everything is best in moderation

Do not overdo it on your favorite meals, sweets, or alcoholic drinks. Do not go overboard on holiday gifts. Stick to your budget. Remember that you can’t buy anybody’s happiness, because happiness is internal and costs no money. Homemade gifts are always the nicest because you did it with somebody in mind and it is usually greatly appreciated.

Barbara Koltuska-Haskin
Source: Barbara Koltuska-Haskin

6. Avoid topics that are controversial and raise emotions

There have been plenty of controversial topics during the last year. It is best not to bring them to the holiday table. However, it is not always possible. When emotions start to rise, “We agree to disagree” may be a good phrase. You can also try to redirect and diffuse heated discussions during the family meal, or just say at the beginning that you all will not discuss certain topics such as political views.

Holiday times may trigger depression. Please get professional help if you think this may happen to you.

And please remember that holidays are about the holiday spirit, about celebrating the time you have with family and close friends, and not about how much food you have or how perfectly it was cooked and prepared. Enjoy your holidays!