Behind the tinsel, fa-la-la-la-las, visions of dancing sugarplums, and feel-good Christmas movies is the harsh truth: The most wonderful time of the year is also the most stressful. Before you write me off as the grinch (my ugly-sweater-wearing dachshund proves otherwise), it’s no secret that holiday stress is real. Need I mention the work rush before the holiday break, mad dashes to the mall and airport, and eating all the cookies in sight? Add to that your bank account feeling the pain from extra Starbucks runs, gift exchanges, party hopping, and playing hostess with the mostest.
In a recent survey of over 1,000 people across the U.S., more than one-third of respondents said their biggest concern about the holidays this year is finances, followed by worry or anxiety, maintaining healthy habits, general busyness/feeling overextended, and feelings of sadness/grief/loss. The silver lining? I asked Dr. Beth Pausic, Director of Behavioral Health at health brand, Hims & Hers, to share her Scrooge-proof tips to combat the top holiday stressors. Take notes for making this season (actually) merry and bright.
Make a plan for your finances
Playing Santa isn’t all fun and games. Sure, gift-giving has its perks (seeing your BFF’s expression when she opens the red light therapy wand you scored for her: priceless), but with the social expectations associated with checking everyone off your nice list, not to mention the inflation we’re battling, it can feel like your wallet can’t catch a break. So how can you avoid a Grinchmas? “The most important thing to do is set a realistic budget for yourself,” Dr. Pausic stated. “Don’t overextend yourself and make your financial problems worse. Be honest about what you can and can’t spend.” And consider alternatives to the usual material gifts, like experiences (think: a fitness or cooking class), plants, DIY goodies (coffee scrub and bath bombs, anyone?), or your time. Talk about gifts that keep on giving!
Dr. Pausic also suggested being open and honest with others about your limits on exchanging gifts or participating in social events. “Having conversations about finances with friends and family can be anxiety-provoking and feel awkward, but if it’s something you’re worried about during the holidays, it’s worth bringing up,” she affirmed. “It’s not easy to allow yourself to be vulnerable and honest when you are in a challenging financial situation, but you are taking better care of yourself by sharing your concerns.” That’s what I call self-care.
Set boundaries in advance
While worry is a normal everyday emotion we all experience, there’s no denying that the holiday season can add an extra layer of stress (holiday madness is a thing). Because anxiety can present itself in different ways and at varying levels of intensity, continuously having check-ins with yourself, paying attention to your body cues, and increasing awareness of your anxiety triggers can make the difference between a meltdown and a jolly holiday. “If possible, minimize or avoid triggers,” Dr. Pausic advised. “If that isn’t possible, have a plan to address your anxiety by minimizing your exposure to these triggers by removing yourself from the situation, setting limits, and having strategies to help reduce your anxiety in tougher moments.”
Dr. Pausic recommended trying the usual suspects: deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. Schedule time for consistent, preventative self-care to help keep tabs on your anxiety and alleviate the effects of it on a regular basis, just like you would your exercise routine.
Maintain (some) healthy habits
Keeping up with your healthy eating and workout regimen is hard enough on any given day, but throw in frigid temps, packed calendars, and temptations everywhere you turn, and the holidays can make even the healthiest women forego their favorite routines. First off, Dr. Pausic pointed out that we’re inclined to become more sedentary during the winter months, so give yourself a break, but do your best to remain active and–if possible–aim to get some level of physical activity several days a week. Adapt your sweat sessions to the winter months by opting for slower, low-impact sweat sessions, like Pilates or yoga. Your body will thank you.
So you’ve got holiday soirée after holiday soirée for the foreseeable future, which means food and drinks galore and not enough quality Zzzs. Keep in mind that it’s not all or nothing—instead of swearing off gingerbread cookies and spiked eggnog, enjoy every bite and sip, and listen to your hunger signs. “While you don’t want to deprive yourself, there can be a fine line between holiday indulgence and holiday excess,” Dr. Pausic expressed. “Be mindful if you are eating or drinking more, and plan when you want to indulge and other days when you are a bit more conservative.” And prioritize those 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night to improve your mood, strengthen your immune system, relieve stress, and maintain a healthy weight. Cold and flu season, who?
Take frequent breaks
From Christmas shopping and white elephant exchanges to holiday travel and family get-togethers—on top of maintaining your “normal” schedule—it’s only natural to feel overwhelmed right now. “If you find yourself feeling stressed about these things instead of enjoying them, it is time to take a break,” Dr. Pausic conveyed. “Don’t agree to every invitation and set realistic expectations for all of your activities during the season. It may seem impossible, but you can say “no”—and don’t forget to take care of yourself.”
Enter: setting boundaries, letting go of “shoulds,” and embracing JOMO. Politely decline any social gatherings that you’d say “yes” to for the sole purpose of satisfying an obligation. Instead of throwing your usual Friendsmas only because your best pals are expecting you to, ask if someone else can take the reins (pun intended). And just because everyone around you is celebrating by decking the halls and baking cookies, you don’t have to partake. Do what feels good for you—even if that means not celebrating at all. Bottom line: Put yourself first.
Hold space for all emotions
Despite this time of year’s theme of holiday cheer, the holidays have a way of intensifying existing feelings of sadness, loss, and grief. “When we are constantly being exposed to images of happiness, family, and being together, it can make your own grief feel even deeper and loss can feel more apparent,” Dr. Pausic explained. “It is OK to acknowledge that getting through the holidays may be hard for you.” You aren’t the only one feeling this way.
Whether you’re facing the loss of a loved one, family stress, a recent breakup, or not going home for the holidays, make space for all your emotions, give yourself grace, and don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to feel happy. Dr. Pausic listed ways to help ease feelings of sadness/grief/loss:
- Be around others who are supportive
- Consider volunteering some of your time helping others
- Feel what you are feeling. Grief is normal. Don’t force yourself to feel any differently.
- Acknowledge the grief and loss that you are experiencing. Don’t tell yourself or others that you are fine if you aren’t.
- Plan out self-care and coping strategies that work best for you. While it is important to define these for yourself, some examples may be taking a walk, spending time with a friend, trying a new activity, getting some sun, and exercise.
- Reach out to your support network
- Consider talking to a mental health professional
- Be compassionate towards yourself