Amid the holiday hustle and bustle, there’s a perception that everyone feels holly and jolly — but that’s not always the case. While holidays can bring joy, togetherness, and fun, they can also bring feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and disappointment. Let’s explore why stress can increase over the holiday, as well as the preventative steps you can take to minimize stress as much as possible. From healthy habits and self-care, here are some expert strategies to minimize stress and maximize the merry and bright.
Why Stress is Heightened Around the Holidays
As much as we look forward to the excitement that the holiday season brings, it’s not uncommon to find ourselves feeling extra pressure and anxiety. Why does this time of year have such an impact on our stress levels?
The answer lies in a multitude of reasons:
- Financial stress from gift buying, parties and other not-so-everyday expenses
- Changes in routine, including travel, time out of the office and time out of school
- Managing strained interpersonal relations with relatives and extended family
- Coordinating travel plans, whether you’re traveling yourself or preparing to welcome houseguests
- Pressure to meet expectations and have a magical season
- Keeping a busier schedule with extra events and social functions
- Navigating grief, as the holidays can be a painful reminder of what has been lost
- Residual COVID-19 stress, with the isolation and social distancing still very recent memories
- Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression related to the changing of the seasons, especially in the darker and cooler months
If any of this resonates with you, you’re not alone: 62% of people report feeling very elevated or somewhat elevated stress levels around the holidays. But there’s a difference between everyday stress or acute stress and something more chronic, like an anxiety or depression disorder. Here’s how to differentiate between the two.
Stress is a normal part of life and something that everyone feels, including children. Daily stress can happen for many reasons, like during the holidays, when a big project is due, when someone is feeling ill or has been injured, when there is too much to do or when you haven’t slept well. Stress impacts our bodies by increasing our heart rates, blood pressure, respiratory function and metabolism in an effort to improve our functionality. However, we all handle stress differently, and some people handle stress more effectively than others. In fact, studies have found that around 70% of Americans experience regular mental and physical symptoms of stress, but only 37% feel like they manage it well, and when it’s not managed, stress can manifest as a more chronic condition that impacts our overall wellbeing.
Chronic Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Anxiety is a high-energy state and depression is a low-energy state, but despite their differences, studies show that these mental health struggles are often linked. Symptoms of anxiety can present as excessive worry, stress responses that are more complex than the issue at hand and panic attacks. While depression symptoms include feeling consistently low, sad, numb or hopeless. For several reasons, the holiday season can be a time when anxiety and depression can become more prevalent. You’ll want to keep an eye out for anything out of the norm.
Research suggests that professional help may be valuable if you experience anxiety or depression symptoms that last longer than two weeks. It’s essential to work through traumas, triggers, and other symptoms with an expert. Coping strategies can help you manage symptoms to thrive in daily life.
Tips for Managing Holiday Stress
Staying mindful of stress levels and knowing when to intervene is key to managing stress. During the holiday season, staying on top of the stress and planning accordingly can significantly improve your health and wellbeing. It all starts with setting yourself up for success and keeping healthy habits.
Here are some helpful tips to help you minimize holiday stress this year:
- Get some rest: With so much to do, including evening parties and get-togethers, you might decide to skimp on sleep to accomplish more. But to keep healthy and energized, do your best to get the recommended eight hours of sleep per night.
- Enjoy fresh air: Especially for those with seasonal affective disorder, getting fresh air and sunlight can help offset some of the effects, but for others, it can be beneficial for our physical and mental wellbeing.
- Prioritize exercise: Physical activity and exercise are proven to have many benefits, including stress relief, better sleep, improved mood, reduced anxiety and increased critical thinking skills — all of which can minimize stress.
- Fill your cup with some self-care: This season is a busy one, but self-care still needs to be prioritized to maintain your health and wellness. Spend time doing something that recharges and revitalizes you.
- Plan, make a schedule and stick to it: Planning ahead of time can save you a lot of time and potential stress. Determine as many holiday logistics ahead of time. Consider planning menus for meals you’re hosting, making lists of what gifts you want to purchase, marking your calendar with events for children (like holiday parties or programs at school) . . . anything you can do in advance can minimize anxiety!
- Budget for holiday spending: Another item to plan ahead of time is your budget. Create a budget for food, events and gifts (and make sure you stick to it!) to ease extra financial burdens.
- Don’t forget to celebrate: Don’t forget to have fun! Enjoy the company of family and friends, and take in the joyful moments.
How to Help a Child Cope with Stress Around the Holidays
Although children don’t always have the same stressors as adults around the holiday, many still experience a heightened level of stress throughout the season. They can sense the extra excitement in the air. This can sometimes make things feel hectic, tense or out of their control, especially if their parents or caregivers are feeling this way too.
However, adults can help their children with this ambient stress by:
- Communicating what’s happening: With so much going on, children can feel like there is little control during the holiday. Help children minimize stress by keeping them in the loop when events and other activities are going to happen.
- Getting them involved: Children have lots of energy to spare, especially when it’s cooler outside! Find events and activities where they can help and stay involved in the holiday process. Offering constructive and age-appropriate ways to contribute can help your own to-do list get a little shorter as well!
- Managing expectations: Turn on any TV channel and it’s easy to see — we are surrounded by holiday marketing and stories! These can shape our expectations of what a holiday experience “should” look like. But in reality, no two holidays look the same. Teach children the meaning behind whatever holiday your family is celebrating, and help them understand what can be expected.
- Trying to keep routines: Children thrive on routines, and when routines are thrown off, there’s often a price to pay with an over-tired, exhausted and moody child or teen. Do your best to stay on track so everyone is stressing more.
- Volunteering time to help others: Help give children a better understanding of what it means to give to others by donating time to a local cause or volunteering in the community. This experience might help take their mind off of their stress, and provide them with something to feel good about.
- Giving some grace: Finally, holiday time is a lot of work for all of us. Give yourself and your children some room to rest and relax when they need it most.
Support for the Holidays and Beyond from KVC
When managing any symptoms of holiday stress, anxiety or depression becomes more difficult to handle, there are resources available for professional care, and you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out. As an organization that specializes in family mental health, KVC offers children’s mental health services and family counseling and therapies for those in need of assistance, and if another professional service is required, referrals can be made to other community resources. Don’t let the stress of the holiday season get you down. Find a service or program that fits your needs, and contact your local KVC for more information today!