When you’re a kid, the holiday season is full of magical anticipation, excitement, and innocent wonder and joy. When you’re older, it turns into something else completely. For plenty of adults, the end-of-year festivities translate into a non-stop pressure cooker of gift-buying, meal-planning, decorating, writing holiday cards, placing infinite orders on Amazon, and worrying about making memories that will last a lifetime. All on top of our day jobs.
Amid the hustle-bustle, people tend to feel like they don't have enough hours to get everything done.
“The holidays are particularly stressful because we put an expectation on ourselves to maintain our usual workload and our holiday traditions, whether we enjoy them or not, in order to have a happy holiday,” says happiness coach, Amy Powell, founder of ATTAINABLE.
However, in (cue deep-voiced narrator) “These Unprecedented Times,” many of the traditional ways to cope with stress — working out, taking a bath, reading a book—, while solid choices, might not be quite as effective for folks facing Defcon-Five level holiday scenarios. We set out to find some unique and surprising tools and techniques from experts to serve up a list of effective things that you can try to restore a sense of calm and lessen the anxiety that tends to overwhelm a lot of folks this time of year.
Be intentional with your time
When it comes to your time, energy, and spending during the holidays, make sure to give yourself the space needed to reflect on how you want to spend your time and with whom, what tasks and activities will truly fill your cup, and how you want to give this season, suggests Powell.
Give yourself 10-15 minutes every day to connect to yourself and your intentions.
“I will either record a voice note to myself, journal, take a walk, sit and reflect on my thoughts, meditate... the list of options is endless,” says Powell. “Pick a modality that helps you clear your head, focus, and ground in what's important to you so you can be present and connected, especially during stressful holidays.”
Being intentional helps us to slow down and pause, especially during the fast-paced holiday season, to reconnect with what is truly important to us. When we operate from an intentional place, we are naturally more grounded and happy.
Identify three things you’re grateful for AND ungrateful for each day
“This holiday season, bring gratitude in your life by identifying three things you feel grateful for--every day before going to bed. Cultivating this simple habit can do wonders for your health and wellbeing,” says Sood.
Or, consider the alternative.
“Writing down what you’re not grateful for can help you identify and avoid the things in your life that don’t bring you joy. Also, the simple act of being kind during the holidays — and recognizing when others are kind to you — can shift your mindset from grinch to grateful!”
Give yourself a scalp and foot massage
You can literally take care of your body from head to toe to ease tension, stress and sleeplessness. A scalp massage can calm you down almost instantly, and make you feel lighter, alleviating stress. It also increases the production of serotonin, a chemical and neurotransmitter in the body, responsible for regulating your mood and helps you get sound and healing sleep, notes Rashika Khemani, yoga instructor/mindfulness expert at MyYogaTeacher.
- For your head, start by applying pressure with your fingertips in circles and across your scalp, sideways, and front to back.
- For your feet, massaging the soles helps to strengthen nerve endings, reduces acidity, improves sleep, fat loss, moods, and helps with skin’s elasticity, says Trupti Parikh, yoga instructor/mindfulness expert at MyYogaTeacher.
Confront the ghosts of holidays past
In an AARP survey, 31 percent of respondents said they had felt lonely during the holiday season sometime during the past five years, and 41 percent reported they had worried about a family member or friend feeling lonely during the holidays.
“A major underlying cause of loneliness are “Trapped Emotions” – unresolved feelings from past difficult and traumatic events that we can’t seem to shake,” according to Nelson. “When an emotion becomes trapped, a person might be more likely to feel that emotion in circumstances similar to the one that created the emotion in the first place.”
When the events that trigger these emotions occurred around the holidays, they can be like “Ghosts of Christmas Past” that return each year, keeping people feeling stuck when they might otherwise feel happy. However, there are steps people can take to fend off loneliness. He suggests the following:
- Reach Out! One way we can avoid isolation and loneliness during the holidays is to reach out in our own communities around us. Volunteer to help the needy. Invite someone who is lonely to share the holidays with you.
- Communicate with love. If you’re feeling stressed about family interactions, go outside for a few minutes to get some fresh air. Be kind to everyone, including yourself. Give hugs. Make sure you’re not overreacting. None of us communicate perfectly, so try to see what others really mean, not just what they say. Give them the benefit of the doubt because it’s likely no offense was meant. Ask for clarification and react appropriately, with kindness, love, and forgiveness. Some people really don’t have a handle on their behavior but it doesn’t have to affect your own feelings or be your problem.
“Most importantly, take steps to release your own emotional baggage,” Dr. Brad says. “In many years of practice and teaching, I have seen lives changed, broken hearts healed, and relationships restored when people free themselves from the burdens of the past.”
Add supplements, minerals, oils to your self-care routine
For anyone looking for external sources to manage stress, Certified Life Coach Jennifer Lazo of CourageCollab provided these quick tips:
- Consider Adaptogens like Ashwagandha. Otherwise known as the “mood booster,” Ashwagandha is famous for its ability to reduce stress, improve mental cognition, and improve mood and energy levels. It’s great in teas or smoothies.
- Epsom Salt baths - Helps replenish blood magnesium levels, relax muscles, reduce cramping and reduce inflammation. This can help alleviate stress headaches and calm tense joints and muscles.
- Aromatherapy - Essential oils like lavender or eucalyptus activate areas in your nose called smell receptors, which send messages through your nervous system to your brain. The oils may activate certain areas of your brain, like your limbic system, which plays a role in your emotions.
In addition, there are a number of new tech tools on the market designed to help you relax.
Protect your energy level at social functions
Research estimates that for both introverts and extroverts gatherings lasting three hours or longer leads to post-socializing fatigue and depletion of mental and physical energy, notes Dipal Shah, a Mindset and Transformative Expert.
Keeping this timeframe in mind, she suggests the following:
- Create Social Stamina: Listen to what you need before over-committing yourself. Don't feel bad about setting up smaller time frames rather than large blocks.
- Create Boundaries: If you are struggling to focus or enjoy yourself, take that as a sign you need 5 minutes of alone time to charge your batteries.
- Gather at events you will enjoy, which helps sustain your social batteries.
Prepare for stress before it gets you down
Knowing is half the battle. Preparing yourself for a tumultuous few weeks ahead can help you cope better while you’re in the thick of it. Janet Coleman, mental health expert at TheConsumerMag.com offers these tips:
- Start by making a list of what you want to do this season and prioritize them based on what you enjoy the most.
- Make an activity schedule for yourself so that you know when you need to call your aunt or send your presents in the mail.
- Take some time each day for self-care by watching comedy movies or relaxing with hot cocoa in bed while reading novels.
As the holidays — and seemingly never-ending to-do lists — approach, it is important to prioritize your mental health and sense of well-being. When the pressures of the season start to become overwhelming turn to these tips to de-stress and keep the season filled with glee.