The holidays. A time of joy, good cheer, and—often—a lot of stress. Make this year different with these 7 tips for a more relaxing and rejuvenating season.
Sometimes, the hustle and bustle of the holidays can add more stress than good cheer to your life. In fact, 64 percent of people report that their mental health declines during the holidays. The very pressure to be joyful this time of year can have the opposite effect: It can raise your stress and dampen your spirits even more.
Wherever your stress comes from, it can harm your health if it becomes severe or long-lasting. Read on to learn how to turn the holidays back around with these tips to help you do a little less, relax a little more, stay healthy, and enjoy the company of loved ones.
1. Keep the holidays low-key
Scale back on holiday traditions and celebrations when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Instead of filling your calendar with grandiose plans, set realistic expectations for yourself and your family.
Take stock of the other obligations in your life right now—whether that’s working, volunteering, traveling, exercising, caring for a loved one, or dealing with other major tasks or hurdles. Then tailor a list of less ambitious, more doable holiday festivities that won’t add more to your plate and crank up your stress and exhaustion.
Instead of going to that big holiday party, get together with a few friends or loved ones for a night of holiday movie watching in the comfort of your own home. If you’re short on time and energy this year, buy your holiday cookies at a local bakery instead of baking them yourself. Dial back a bit on decking the halls—and opt for just a few simple decorations instead.
If you feel like getting out of the house, meet a friend to coffee, or head outdoors for a brisk walk. If you’re not feeling up for traveling this year, schedule some video calls with out-of-state friends and family instead.
The darker months of winter naturally urge you to slow down—the opposite of what our “hustle culture” often tells you to do. Try to lean into your instincts to rest this year so you can emerge from winter more resilient. Author Katherine May calls this restorative practice “wintering.”
Wintering is a time when you can let yourself hibernate in your own ways and accept your current season of life. According to May, the holidays can be, “a quiet house in lamplight, a spin in the garden to see bright stars […], warming the teapot and making cups of bitter cocoa.” Her book, aptly named Wintering, is a reminder that simple acts are still celebrations.
2. Practice self-care
When the holiday season ramps up, you may be tempted to cut back on self-care. But it’s important for your health that you carve out time for it during this busy time of year. One way to do this is to schedule some time to simply rest and relax. If you’re feeling burnt out, start by taking a nap. And make this part of your daily routine, if you need to.
Downtime helps ease stress and may help preserve your holiday cheer. But downtime means much more than resting. It can include activities that will support your health and enhance your mood and energy. Here are some other ideas for self-care that you may want to try:
- Do something physical. You may feel more grounded after a bout of yoga or a brisk walk. Exercise may not be the first thing that pops into your head when you think of self-care, but moving your body is one of the best things you can do for your health and well-being.
- Ease some tension in your body by booking a massage or relaxing in a warm bath.
- Limit or take a break from alcohol and rich foods. You can still enjoy your favorite holiday fare without guilt. Just try not to overdo it. Support your body and your energy with nutritious foods, especially if you feel more sluggish and tense during this season.
3. Connect with others
While holiday stress can stem from the season’s uptick in social events, it’s also common to feel isolated and lonely this time of year. In fact, a 2017 survey showed that up to 34 percent of people reported feeling lonely during the holidays.
But chances are, someone around you is also looking for company. Reach out to a loved one by phone or video chat. Invite a friend or family member to share a meal or go for a hike with you.
You can also ease loneliness by thinking or writing about all that is good in your life. So, think about keeping a gratitude journal—another healthy habit to start during the holidays.
Embracing alone time with a good book or cherished hobby may help you feel less lonely, as well.
4. Have a “hygge”-inspired holiday
Hygge (pronounced hooga) is a Danish concept that embraces a slow, cozy lifestyle and the enjoyment of simple pleasures with loved ones. Doesn’t hygge sound perfect for combatting the winter blues and holiday stress?
In a way, that’s just what it’s meant to do. Hygge is largely a winter practice that Nordic countries use during their many dark and dreary months. It’s known to lower cortisol (the stress hormone) and boost feelings of gratitude to help you feel grounded.
You can embrace this tradition by creating a cozy environment in your home. Light some candles, play soft music, and feel the stress melt away. Look for the beauty in small moments. Feel the hot chocolate warm your body. Breathe in the scent of pine trees.
With hygge, you can care for yourself and still celebrate the season. So, grab a hot drink and curl up in front of the fire this winter. It may be just what you need to replace stress with joy.
5. Shop less, spend less, stress less
For some, finances become an even greater stressor during the holidays. Plus, going out in the winter and wandering through crowded stores only adds to your to-do list. You can stay home, save money, and have fun by creating your own do-it-yourself (DIY) gifts.
Think about making a homemade bubble bath or bath salts to help a friend relax. Get crafty and pick up a hobby you haven’t done in a while to create some handmade gifts. Paintings, pottery, or knitted accessories are great options.
Another thoughtful gift might be an “experiential” one. You might buy tickets to a movie that you know a loved one would enjoy. And what a great way to spend an evening together! You can always offer to make dinner or help with chores and errands, too. In fact, your friends and family may need these acts of service more than they need fancy things.
Keep in mind that DIY gifts take time and energy. If you’re feeling short on either of those, or are really stressed, a simple holiday card or even a phone call is enough to show you care.
Your thoughtful gifts, in any form, will likely be accepted gratefully and leave both you and your loved ones with less stress. In the end, everyone simply hopes for a meaningful holiday. And that doesn’t require you to buy over-the-top expensive presents. Remember, the way you spend your holiday is more important than how much money you spend.
6. Embrace the potluck
Hosting and cooking a big holiday dinner can mean a lot of work. Plan a simple yet festive dinner that you and others can contribute to. It can help lower the stress for everyone.
It’s true, sharing is caring, for you and everyone else. You'll spend less time in the kitchen and more time relaxing and bonding with friends and family as you share a relaxing potluck meal. Plus, everyone gets to savor new, delicious foods without the burden of having to cook for a large party.
7. Start some new holiday traditions
Like many others, you may feel that stress has become your family’s main holiday tradition. You can change that by simplifying the holidays and creating new, grounding traditions that everyone enjoys. Whether you’re craving a sense of routine or something to look forward to, new traditions that take less time and energy can help you build a meaningful holiday.
For example, if the thought of hosting a big party makes you tense up, switch it up this year with something simple and intimate. You could go for a nighttime stroll with a small group of friends and family to view the holiday light displays in your neighborhood, instead. Once back home, you could top the evening off with some eggnog by the fireplace.
Reconnect with your reasons for the season by starting a “happiness jar.” Throughout the day, each family member writes down a moment of joy and puts it in a jar. Then, plan a time with your family when you can all read them aloud.
Sometimes the best way to ease your own stress is by easing the stress of others. Share your comfort and joy with those who may need it most. Make it a new tradition to volunteer in your community or donate items that will help another family have a happier holiday. Send some heartfelt, handwritten notes to the people in your life who could use some loving words in the depths of winter. Or spread musical cheer by forming a caroling group and singing to others.
Any new, simple holiday act can become a tradition. From giving yourself more downtime to creating a new healthy recipe, your activities may be so enjoyable you’ll want to do them for years to come.
Coping with stress looks different for everyone, especially during the holidays. While it is the season of giving, your well-being depends on not giving away too much of yourself.
So, turn the holidays into a season of compassion—for yourself, as well as for others. Once you take some of the stress out of the equation, you can focus on the joy and magic of the holidays and rediscover the wonder of the season.
This information is not intended to take the place of regular medical care or advice. Please check with your doctor before using this information or beginning any self-care program. Images used for this article do not depict any members of the Silver&Fit Program.
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This article was written by Celina Johnson, edited by Gail Olson, and clinically reviewed by Elizabeth Thompson, RD, MPH