The Holiday Tango: 10 Essential Tactics for Eliminating Holiday Stress
I thought that, by quitting the job I didn’t like, I would dramatically decrease my chances of dying.
That’s not the actual reason why I quit that particular job, but it makes sense. After all, there are numerous studies showing that chronic stress can increase your chances of dying of heart disease by 50% or more.
What I didn’t count on was that I’d often still be stressed while running my own business. To be honest, I am less stressed now and greatly enjoy what I do, but we often look forward to certain things without properly preparing for the stress that they might bring.
Which brings me to the holidays…
Looking Forward to the Holidays
You’ve probably been looking forward to the holidays for quite some time. And you should. There are so many great things about the holidays.
Time off from work, time with family and friends, lots of great food, and a generally great time. But if you want to make your holidays extra-special, then there’s something that you need to be prepared for…
The Holiday Stress
You know what I’m talking about. For example, imagine that you’re having friends or family over for dinner. All of a sudden, you realize that you’re burning the main dish, that you don’t have all the ingredients for a side, that one of your kids is sick, that your spouse has to work late, that one of the guests is lost, and that another guest is bringing 2 surprise friends. And this all happens in the span of 15 minutes.
These kinds of situations happen more frequently during the holidays because you’ve got more to do and because you are required to interact people who you might find stressful (in-laws or your own family).
If you really want to enjoy your holidays, then one of the best things you can do is learn a few simple stress-management techniques.
10 Tips for Dealing With Holiday Stress
I’m going to give you 10 tips.
10 is not a magic number, and there are more than 10 tips that could help you deal with stress (around the holidays or otherwise).
But stress can be overwhelming, and when things get overwhelming, you don’t need a long and complicated theory about how to deal with it. You need a few tips that you’ll remember in the heat of the moment that will help you get through it and maybe even get a little bit more enjoyment out of the moment.
That’s why I’m giving you these 10 tips. It’s my hope that when you get stressed this year, you remember just 2-3 of these tips, and that these tips help you more easily navigate your stress.
Also, you’ll notice that several of these tips are “tried and true,” that is, you’ve probably heard them other places. If that’s the case, don’t just skim over them. Really stop and ask yourself if you’ve ever given that tip a good try and if it helped you in the past. Things that get repeated for a very long time often have some kernel of truth to them (though not always).
1. Breathe. When you feel yourself getting stressed, focus on taking deep breaths, and if you can, counting each one. This does 2 things. First, it temporarily distracts you from whatever problem you’re facing (and may allow you to get a little perspective). Secondly, and more importantly, researchers in India have found that breathing deeply physically changes your nervous system. Stress is not just in your mind – it’s a physical reaction that occurs in your body. The easiest way to relieve a little bit of that stress is to physically change your body, and breathing deeply will do that by slowing your heart rate and stimulating your vagus nerve, which is responsible for calming you down.
There’s no tip that you’ll hear more from professional therapists and amateur psychologists. And that’s probably because there is no tip that works better for more people than breathing deeply.
2. Smile. Like breathing, this is a tip that’s based on changing your body in order to change your mind. Researchers at the University of Kansas found that smiling reduced the heart rates of participants, even if the person was smiling only because they were told to hold chopsticks in their mouth (which simulated a smile). In other words, the simple physical act of smiling can change the way that your body reacts to stress.
After all, you should be smiling during the holidays.
3. Dance. My best guess is that less than 1% of people who read this article will ever try this tip. Most of us (myself included most times) are too embarrassed to try this, even when we’re all alone. But to an even greater degree than smiling or breathing, dancing will get your whole body involved and very quickly change how you perceive the situation. Try it and see if it does’t work for you.
If you ask me, we should all dance a little bit more.
4. Listen to Music. Simply having music playing when you get stressed can almost immediately help you relax. Researchers from Quebec found that music dramatically decreased the amount of cortisol (a sign of stress) in people’s bodies. And what’s easier or more fun than playing a little bit of good music?
5. Write Down All the Things You’re Worried About. Try it. It works. And it takes way less time than you think. Usually, when we get “stressed-out,” we feel like there are a million things that are going to go wrong. In truth, there are usually fewer than 10.
If you take just 2-3 minutes to actually write out all of the things that are stressing you, then your mind will suddenly realize that it’s not nearly as much as you thought, and your mind will also be freed to start coming up with solutions, rather than just trying to remember all the things it needs to worry about.
6. Imagine the Absolute Worst-Case Scenario. This works better for some people than others, and ironically, it works best for people who are very imaginative. When you feel overwhelmed, stop and think what the absolute worst scenario could be. Really play it out in your head and imagine everything going as badly as possible, and then see where you end up. Where you end up is never really that bad of a place, especially when it comes to the holidays and dinners and family.
7. Make a List of 3 Things You’re Grateful For. This is the opposite of the previous tip, and it’s something that you should really be doing every morning of your life. But even if you don’t want to commit to that, it’s a very useful practice for when you get stressed, angry, sad, or any other emotion that you want to change. The things that you’re grateful for can be big things or very small details about your life or day. Doesn’t matter. Just getting your mind to think about what’s going well is a huge change for your brain.
8. 5-HTP. I’m always hesitant to recommend any supplements, because they’re rarely the quick-fix that everyone wants. However, 5-HTP has almost no side-effects, it’s something that is naturally produced in our bodies, and researchers in Italy (and in many other studies) have found that it can significantly reduce stress.
9. Keep Exercising. Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve stress. Exercise is often meditative (it really gets you to focus), and it also helps to balance the neurotransmitters that are partially responsible for stress. We often feel like we don’t have time to exercise around the holidays, but maybe we don’t have time not to.
10.Take a Hike. Literally or figuratively. I won’t bore you with scientific evidence, because you already know that taking a break and getting outside are things that help us all. I often neglect to do this myself, but it’s still great advice.
Celebrate and Enjoy
The holidays should always be about celebrating and enjoying what we have. It just so happens that stress can sometimes distract us from that celebration and enjoyment.
None of our lives will ever be 100% stress-free. But that’s OK.
With just a little bit of work and foresight, you can learn to notice when you’re getting stressed and take just a few steps to dramatically improve your response.
It’s something I personally work on every single day, and the rewards are great, particularly when we have so much to be grateful for and not stressed about.