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How to manage stress during the holidays

How to manage stress during the holidays

December 8th, 2023

As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, many of us look forward to our favourite holiday activities and foods, and spending more time with family and friends. 

As with any change in routine, the holidays can also be a source of stress. Gift giving and family get-togethers can be a source of both financial and emotional strain. 

This pressure is often compounded by the need we feel to keep up appearances. When the season is supposed to be jolly, it can be extra stressful when you’re not feeling that way. 

Using strategies to manage stress around the holidays can help you keep the season merry, and feel recharged heading into the new year. Here are some tips for keeping tension levels low this December.

Set healthy boundaries – and stick to them

Boundaries are essential for preserving your energy and focusing your attention on the things that matter to you. Without clear boundaries, it’s easy to take on too much, and feel burnt out. When we spend too much time catering to others’ needs, we may not have enough energy to take care of ourselves, which can compound issues like stress and anxiety.

Setting clear boundaries – and respecting others’ boundaries – can be especially helpful around holiday gatherings with extended family.

Maybe you have an aunt who you see at family gatherings and who always asks invasive questions about your personal life. In this case, setting a boundary can mean deciding beforehand what things you are willing to talk about and in how much detail, then preparing yourself with what to say if your aunt tries to pry further.

It’s okay to say “I’d rather not talk about that here.” Or you can offer a different topic of discussion – it can be as simple as telling your aunt about a good book you’ve read recently, or a new restaurant you’ve tried.

Boundaries can also mean saying “no” to attending gatherings. If the thought of going to a party fills you with dread rather than excitement, you’re not obligated to attend (no matter what your friends or relatives might say).

It’s also important to set ground rules before gatherings – particularly if you’re hosting. Should guests wear masks? Are there any topics of conversation that are off-limits? Agree on points like these with other members of your household, and communicate these expectations in your invites.

Take care of your financial health

The holidays can be a time of financial strain, especially if your celebrations involve gift-giving. While giving and receiving gifts is exciting, many people also feel a lot of pressure to spend generously.

Decide on a gift-giving budget before you start shopping. Discuss with the group that you usually exchange gifts with, and agree on an amount that everyone can comfortably afford.

Having a spending limit is also a great way to encourage more creative gifts. Exchanging homemade gifts is another thoughtful way to reduce the financial strain of the season. Items like candles, soap, or baked goods are relatively easy and inexpensive to make. As an added bonus, making your own gifts often cuts down on plastic and packaging waste.

The financial stress of the holidays can also apply to hosting parties and cooking meals. Grocery prices in Canada have risen over 11 percent since 2021. With these rising costs, a traditional homemade dinner may feel out of reach this year. Instead of feeling like you have to buy enough food to feed all of your guests, consider holding a potluck-style gathering where every guest brings one dish. If you’re attending a gathering, check in with the hosts to see if there is anything you can bring.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is the act of paying attention in the present moment, without positive or negative judgement. Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to mean taking up a formal meditation practice. It can be as simple as pausing during your day to breathe, clear your mind, and focus on what you’re doing and feeling in that moment.

Around the holidays, mindfulness can come in handy for managing the excess of the season. Whether it’s food, alcohol, or socializing, many people feel pressure to drink more, eat more, and generally let moderation fall by the wayside.

Get into the habit of being mindful while you enjoy the holidays. Rather than shoveling down sweets while watching a movie or talking, take a moment to really experience the food. While eating, notice the texture, taste, and smell of your food. Check in with yourself and any physical sensations you may notice.

The same can apply to socializing. If you notice yourself feeling anxious or overwhelmed while at a party, pay attention to those feelings – see if you can step outside or retreat to a quiet room for a while to recharge.

Accept that things may not be perfect

We live in a highly connected world – no matter what you have planned for your holiday, you’ll likely be inundated with images of other people’s holiday celebrations on social media. When we see our friends and family posting beautiful, smiling photos it’s easy to get caught up in comparison, and feel like your holidays aren’t as fun or as special.

Keep in mind that what you see on social media is only a tiny part of the whole story. People usually only post the highlights of their lives on social media, which can make those lives seem perfect when that’s the only story you see. But everyone experiences mistakes, miscommunications, and conflicts – even, and perhaps especially, around the holidays.

Instead of striving for a picture-perfect holiday season, keep the focus simple – do things that you enjoy, and spend time with people you care about. Not everyone is going to be filled with cheer, and the best thing you can do is be kind and accepting.

It’s also best not to put all of your expectations on one event or gathering. Spending all month planning every detail of a dinner party can lead to disappointment when things don’t go perfectly. Outside of that big family gathering, make time for other ways to celebrate, and other things to look forward to – like a more casual get-together with friends, or a dinner out with your significant other.

The key to a happier holiday is simple – be kind to yourself. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and others, know when to say “no,” and focus on doing the things that make you happy, rather than catering to others’ expectations.

Whether you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, or family conflict around the holidays, speaking with a counsellor on the TELUS Health MyCareTM app can help. TELUS Health MyCareᵀᴹ counsellors1 can assist with a wide range of mental health concerns, and can provide a safe space to talk through anything you might be feeling or experiencing. Book a virtual appointment in the app to see a counsellor when it’s convenient for you.

1. Users must be 16 years or older to access counselling appointments. Counselling appointments require additional payment of $120 plus applicable taxes. Any payments for appointments must be paid using a valid credit card. An in-app receipt will be provided for you to claim for reimbursement if applicable.