5 ways to reduce stress this holiday season

Nov 01, 2018
Photo: Adobe Stock

If Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, why was I lying curled up on my bed that December 24, crying my eyes out?
I’ll tell you why. It was my first holiday season as a wife, and my new father-in-law had come to stay with us for a week. He was a kind and loving man – and an extremely discerning cook.
Before Dad’s arrival, I’d planned out every aspect of our time together. I would spoil him with seasonal gourmet dinners cooked by me. Every single night. The meals would be followed by home-made desserts and port wine by the fire.
Well, it was now Day 5 of this self-inflicted forced march. And my plans had not generated the sense of comfort and joy each Christmas is meant to have. They’d created the miserable woman on the bed, spatula still clutched in her hand.
Why is Christmas so stressful?
Christmas comes but once a year – and that’s plenty for most of us. Many people meet life’s pressures quite well. And then December arrives. Why are we so vulnerable during that time?
According to the Canadian Psychological Association, our usual coping strategies fall short during the holiday season. Special dinners, family visits and sparkling celebrations are events out of the ordinary. So, we expect something extraordinary from them.
For many of us, seasonal checklists include the feelings we wish to create. We want people to feel festive when they enter our homes. Our parents should feel cherished when they open our gifts. And our kids deserve their fair sense of wonder. 
Such intangibles are impossible to achieve through sheer human effort. Most of them involve other people, whose responses we can’t control. This can only add to our stress as we prepare for every possible outcome.
5 ways to defuse the pressure
The Canadian Psychological Association recommends that we get out ahead of holiday stress. They suggest we review our expectations, pace ourselves and try to focus on what really matters. Here are five things to consider:   
  1. Focus on outcomes you can control, like how you feel about an event or situation. Concentrate on your own fun and the love you want to share. Other people’s responses are beyond your control.
  1. Don’t lose all sense of reason. Sure, Christmas comes once a year. But that doesn’t mean you need to bake everything in Grandma’s recipe book or purchase your kids’ entire Santa list. Pick a couple of favorites.
  1. Review your calendar of events. Are there enough quiet evenings for frozen pizza at home? Scheduling downtime means you’ll feel more human, and your family will thank you.
  1. Look for meaning. Many of us prefer charitable gifts, which you can order online in your pyjamas. The World Vision Gift Catalogue, for example, offers ways to warm hearts while changing the world. For animal lovers, there’s the World Wildlife Fund.
  1. Seek help if needed. If, despite your best efforts, you still feel sad, anxious or overwhelmed, reach out to your doctor for help. Christmas is a time when emotion comes to the forefront, and that can be difficult.
If you can’t stick to all these suggestions, just pick one or two. You’ll be surprised what a difference they’ll make to your December.
Happy holidays. For real this time. You deserve them.