‘Tis the season to be merry—and stressed. If your family holidays tend to resemble a scene straight out of the movie Christmas Vacation (minus the burning tree and fried cat), you’re not alone. For many, the holiday season ushers in a number of stressors: credit card bills are piling up, the pressure is on to make the best Christmas dinner ever, and your in-laws are on your last leg.
This year, don’t let your family holiday devolve into disaster a la the Griswold family. With a little planning, you can transform your mood from bah-humbug to holly jolly. Colin Christopher, a clinical hypnotherapist certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners, and author of Success Through Manipulation, offers these tips to reduce stress and make it through the next few months:
Don’t procrastinate: If you’re the type of person who hurries to buy last-minute gifts on Christmas Eve, it’s time to switch up your game plan. Waiting until the eleventh hour to run errands only exacerbates stress levels. PSA to all of you procrastinators out there: Make an effort to get a head-start on your to-do list a few weeks in advance. For example, set aside a date sometime in early December to complete all of your holiday shopping. Do it online for easy, one-click shopping. Or, if you’re charged with the task of cooking Christmas dinner, create a grocery list a week ahead of time and run to the store a few days prior to gather everything you need.
Learn to say ‘no:’ Every year, you begrudgingly attend your neighbor’s ultra-boring Christmas party simply because you feel obligated to. Or, you always volunteer at the kid’s school food drive even though you’re at wit’s end with things to do. If you have a hard time telling people “no,” you’re going to find yourself overcommitted, tired, and stressed out. Seriously, it’s ok to say no if you don’t want to do something or don’t have the time to do it. Politely decline the offer and explain that you’re up to your neck in things to do; chances are, people will understand.
Get plenty of sleep: During the hustle and bustle of the holidays, people tend to neglect getting enough rest due to travel, staying up late with family, overeating and feeling overwhelmed. Make sleep a top priority during the holidays and you’ll enjoy the season so much more. Being well-rested is associated with a better mood, sharper thinking and a heightened ability to problem solve, so give yourself permission to cut the lights and hit the hay early. Have trouble nodding off? Check out our list of sleep strategies.
Take a moment for yourself: During the holidays, we have so many commitments—to family, friends, visitors, office parties and more—that we neglect our own needs. Carve out just 20 to 30 minutes each day to do something you enjoy, whether it’s going for a long walk, taking that hour-long yoga class, or treating yourself to a mani and pedi. No matter how busy you are, don’t skimp on exercise—working out is a proven way to bust stress and boost mood. Even if you only have a few minutes, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), you can still cram in a killer workout in twenty minutes or less. Check out some of our favorite HIIT workouts for the holidays.
Breathe: It sounds gimmicky, but breathing exercises are great for blasting unwanted stress. If you’re feeling overly anxious or stressed, take a few minutes to slow your breathing down. Breathe in through your diaphragm (stomach area), hold for a few seconds, and slowly release through your mouth. Phew. Much better now, right?
Stand back and appreciate the moment: Reframe your thinking. Rather than focusing on what’s going wrong in your life, step back and appreciate the moment. Enjoy the time with your family, playing in the snow with your kids, etc. You’ll naturally feel less stressed and more satisfied when you are thankful for everything around you.
Lower your expectations: People tend to place very high expectations on the holidays. They picture everything playing out in a specific way—the food will be amazing, the weather will cooperate, and everyone will be in a great mood—but inevitably find themselves feeling disheartened when things don’t go according to plan. Dr. Christopher’s tip? Lower your expectations and just let life happen. You’ll feel less stressed and have more fun.