Top 3 Tips for dealing with holiday stress

December 1, 2015 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Natasha Sharma, BCom '00

holiday stressWhen I was grad student at Johns Hopkins, I took a class with a special focus on anxiety. Somewhere in the text there was a ranked list of stressful life events that could potentially lead to psychological distress, fittingly called a ‘stress scale.’ I saw many of the usual suspects: divorce, dismissal from work, financial woes.

Then my eyes flashed across a word I wasn’t expecting: Christmas. Incidentally, it ranked as more stressful a life event than experiencing a minor legal infraction! At first the foolish student in me laughed, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense.

Stress is the body’s natural reaction to major changes in our environment, and it isn’t always a bad thing. In appropriate amounts and duration, stress can motivate us to identify and adapt to these changing events, a crucial life skill. Chronic and pervasive stress, however, may lead to unhealthy forms of anxiety.

The October through January 1 ‘holiday stretch’ usually results in a lot of change and extra stuff going on for many people.

So here are my Top 3 Tips for how to survive this time of year:

1. Family.

Ah family. Some we like. Some we just don’t. And we typically come together with some or all of them over the holidays, often at multiple times. At times, family-members can behave in some truly annoying ways, such as ‘shaming and blaming’, criticizing, bragging or comparing, or taking slight digs. Avoid letting them get under your skin.

Here’s how to deal: Manage your expectations. Expect these family members to behave that way, before heading to the gathering. When you expect it to happen, you take away all the fear and anxiety over wondering and worrying what they’ll be like, because you already know. Then if by chance they behave well, it will be a pleasant surprise. Either way, you’ll feel calmer. If people do fall out of line or hit below the belt, address it with them immediately, calmly, and firmly. And remember that they alone are responsible for their actions. You are responsible for your reactions.

2. Keeping Up With The…?

Social pressure to ‘be’ or ‘look’ a certain way is a nagging reality of life. From getting the ‘right’ gifts to having the perfect job, being in a great relationship, having the perfect marriage, house, and kids… this list goes on and on. We invariably spend part of our holiday time updating and answering questions about our lives to people we may not have seen for some time.

Here’s how to deal: Practice the art of gratitude. Be grateful for where you are and what you have. If you’re reading this article, chances are you already have more than so many people in the world do, including health, shelter, food, and safety. The abundance of the holidays should be a stark reminder of that, but often they’re not. Don’t keep score in your head with who’s doing what, where, and how much they make. You’re only up against yourself. Be humble, be you, and be proud of all that goes with it.

3. So much to do, so little time.

If there is ever a time in the year when we have a desperate lack thereof, it’s around the holidays. From office parties to family engagements, shopping and preparing, it’s no wonder we feel stretched to our limits. Feeling like you’re on a deadline you might not meet can cause a ton of stress.

Here’s how to deal: Pace yourself and learn how to say ‘no.’ You can’t do everything, so choose with consciousness what you can and can’t commit to around the holidays. Focus your energy on what you enjoy the most. Make lists, and make a concerted effort to avoid cramming too many things into one day. Most importantly, take time alone out of every day to unwind and clear your head space. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes. Your body and your mind will thank you!

Natasha Sharma

Natasha Sharma is a relationship therapist, personal growth expert, TV/media spokesperson, speaker, writer, and doctoral student. She is devoted to inspiring and helping others to be their best and live their best, and has worked with thousands of individuals, couples, and families. Natasha received her commerce degree from the DeGroote School of Business, her Masters degree in Psychology from The Johns Hopkins University, and is currently completing her Doctorate degree in Psychology. In 2012, Natasha founded the clinic NKS Therapy in Toronto. 

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