Every day, we face stressful and anxiety provoking situations, ranging from breaking a toenail to losing a loved one. Just like all the fingers on our hands are not equal, similarly everyone deals with challenges in their own way. How we cope with these challenges can have a meaningful effect on our health and wellbeing. This can be especially true during the holiday season. As much as it may be festive and fun, we all face stressors that are connected or related to our unique life story.
Holiday stress and anxiety is normal and inevitable, but the good news is that it is also temporary. By leaning into the fact that we are going to encounter experiences that will likely stress us out, it will help us to feel empowered by knowing the right way to handle it. Even though we as human beings stress about everything, every single day, there is something about this time of year that can truly bring out and magnify all these negative emotions.
A survey conducted by Healthline reported that 62% of the individuals they surveyed concluded that they felt a significant increase in their stress level during the holiday season. By comparison only 10 percent reported no stress increase at all. (Holiday Stress and the Brain, 2015). The reality is that the holiday season has become a burden to many families around the world due to financial demands, political differences, missing loved ones, not having any friends/family to celebrate with, or feeling just plain lonely, etc.
How can we learn to recognize stress during the holiday season and empower ourselves with a solution? Here are a few ideas that can really make a difference:
1. If you find your sleep pattern is becoming out of control, implement effective steps to correct it right away. This is one of the beginning signs that our body sends to let us know that we may be in distress. Always listen to your body when it speaks to you in order to stay re-energized during this busy season. Even though we may be running around tirelessly, it’s significant to effectively regulate our energy by getting enough rest so we can function effectively. We should expect to lose some sleep during this busy time, but you should always make plans to minimize the impact it has on your body.
2. Monitor eating habits. If you find that they are changing from what they once were make note of it. If your intake has increased/decreased in an unhealthy way, then your stress level could be taking a toll on your body. If this is the case, you must take the necessary steps to get the problem resolved quickly. Food and our relationship with it can be the deciding factor in determining our overall state of well-being, both mentally and physically. To be realistic, what you ingest during the holiday season can make or break you. Of course, it’s always great to splurge sometimes, but this can get out of hand if we are not careful, therefore we should closely monitor any changes to ensure we stay healthy.
3. Muscle tension could also be another way to recognize when stress might be invading your life. There is no doubt that muscle tension is caused by the physiological effects of stress. This is another way our body might be trying to communicate with us that something is wrong. One important piece of advice to help alleviate this problem is to pack and travel with your exercise gear and make time to engage in as much physical activity as possible. This will not only help you to stay in shape, but it will get those endorphins elevated which will keep you feeling great.
Another big stressor during the holidays might have to do with spending time with a difficult family member. Whether it is a mom that won’t stop nagging or a jealous cousin who passes judgement on you like it is her job, we have all experienced a relative that may not be easiest to deal with from time to time. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to avoid being around them. However, here are 3 tips to help you keep the peace and enjoy your time, regardless of the company.
1. Set clear boundaries surrounding the topics you will or won’t discuss during family gatherings. It will be very beneficial by helping to avoid being pulled into anxiety provoking discussions. When push comes to shove, walk away from the environment to regroup and regain your composure. Remember you are always in control and it’s not worth it to attend every conflict you are invited to.
2. Consider this: might it be possible that sometimes difficult family members or co-workers are difficult because they feel they have not been heard or understood by others. Therefore, acknowledging them by thoroughly reflecting on what they are saying could help de-escalate the situation. There is a difference between listening to respond versus listening to understand. Listening to respond escalates conflict and listening to understand stops them before they start. When you listen to understand, you are not necessarily in agreement with someone’s opinion, but simply acknowledging that you understand their viewpoint. During the holiday season, make as much effort not to shut others out as possible. Be available to listen, not necessarily respond. Be approachable.
3. It is also beneficial to pause for a minute and look inward, evaluate our behavior, and decide whether we could be contributing to the problem. Everyone can be difficult at times, including ourselves. Sometimes people send signals they are not even aware of that could trigger a negative response from others. Understanding how we may be doing this so we can implement an action plan in order to ensure it doesn’t continue can always be helpful.
Remember, you are always in control of yourself right now and in the future. Take comfort in that fact. We all have been through this rodeo before. Yes, we may have struggled in the past, but it was a great learning experience. Now that we are aware of how much of an impact holiday stress can have on us, we should be better prepared for next time. Do the best you can to get your mind ready for what is to come. Starting earlier is much better on an already anxious mind than waiting until the last minute. Expect some deviations from your normal routines/structure but have a plan in place to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. While pleasing others during the holidays, don’t forget to please yourself.
About Emeka Anyiam PhD, LMFT
Founder and CEO of Embridge Counseling Services. Dr. Anyiam holds an Undergraduate degree in Sociology, a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a Doctoral degree in Ministry.
With over a decade of experience as a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Florida, Dr. Anyiam’s passion is teaching and guiding others to truly embrace their situation, good or bad, so they can become the best version of themselves.