The holiday season can be a joyous time for reconnecting with family and friends. But we are often bombarded with images of elegant parties, extravagant gifting, elaborate meals, and cheery family gatherings – all carried out to perfection. In reality, this time of year is highly stressful for many people, typically even more intensely for those who are easily stressed in general. Following are some insights into its sources and hints for handling holiday stress.

The average American spends 42 hours a year on shopping, wrapping, returning gifts, preparing for and attending parties and gatherings, extra travel, and other holiday activities. This means squeezing an extra work week into already busy schedules, often without taking any time off from work. Many of us also incur significant debt in an effort to give generously to our loved ones. According to a survey conducted by Mental Health America, these chaotic schedules and money concerns are top sources of holiday stress.

Stress is also closely tied to our expectations and our visions of how things should be or should have been. According to David Levingston, a licensed marriage and family therapist, “Stress and distress are often related to worrying about the future or fretting about the past.” The effects of holiday stress seem to seep into many areas of our lives. We hope these tips we’ve learned will help you get the most enjoyment out of your holidays.

  • Set priorities for yourself and your family early in the season about how you want to spend your time and resources. Identify what is most important to you about, and during, the holidays and make your choices accordingly.
  • Once you’ve chosen your activities, make a plan and organize with lists and calendars, but leave time open for the unexpected.
  • Remember that perfection is pretty near impossible so don’t drive yourself crazy trying to create it.
  • Take some time off from work if that’s an option for you.
  • Don’t overbook. You don’t have to accept every invitation – it’s OK to RSVP with a thank you, but no.
  • Be conscious of what you don’t need to do before and during the holidays. Get it off your plate and off your mind – make a list for later.
  • You don’t have to do it all yourself – share tasks.
  • Involve your children in holiday decisions and tasks.
  • Maintain regular schedules, meals and bedtimes for children.
  • Don’t let shopping and worries about gift-giving rob you of your holiday spirit. A survey by Consumer Reports revealed that up to 49 million people get gifts they don’t want each year. So gifts don’t have to be elaborate or even tangible.
  • Know your spending limits and stick to them.
  • Be creative in gift giving. Consider making a donation to a cause that’s important to the recipient, gifts you make yourself, notes that express your appreciation of a friend or loved one, coupons for your time or help or for a special outing after the holidays. Consider drawing names among family members or your circle of friends.
  • Don’t let things get too serious. Keep your sense of humor and let yourself laugh.
  • Take a break to play. Play, including games, helps people connect, turns focus to the moment and away from stress, and engages the mind, body and imagination.
  • Pay attention to your own needs and feelings and take some time for yourself.
  • Make yourself a priority, not a sacrifice. Stay healthy by sticking with your routine for sleep, meals, and exercise.
  • Get exposure to sunlight either outdoors, through a sunny window or phototherapy. It helps create the anti-stress chemical, serotonin, in our bodies and combats seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
  • Take a walk – it decreases anxiety and improves sleep.
  • Get or give a massage to a significant other.
  • Take time to breathe. Concentrate on your breathing to take stress down a notch and relax.
  • Trigger feel-good endorphins with a hot and spicy meal.
  • Craving sweets? Enjoy a little taste of honey – it has antioxidant and antibacterial properties and can help boost your immune system.
  • Eat a good breakfast which includes protein. Even though you’re in a rush, don’t go for just coffee – it will set you up for stress.
  • Incorporate hemp for a healthy diet – as seed, oil, milk and more.
  • Consider a CBD product for its reported benefits, including stress relief.
  • Enjoy a soothing cup of tea – try one of our delightful Hemptealicious
  • Listen to music you enjoy – it relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow.
  • Turn off the tech. Take a break from your phone, computer, and other devices both while preparing for the holidays and during gatherings with family and friends.
  • Family issues don’t go away because it’s a holiday. Make an effort to set aside family feuds. If necessary, set limits for your availability at family events.
  • Don’t be afraid to create some new customs as you honor traditions.
  • Remember that other people are stressed, too, and may act and react accordingly; don’t take it personally.
  • Let go of how you think people should be and accept them as they are. Be kind to others AND yourself.
  • The holidays can trigger deep emotional responses, including depression, which may be related to current losses and events or those associated with past holidays. Be honest in your feelings. Don’t hesitate to talk to others or seek help and support. Extend compassion and an ear to those who are struggling with loss – sometimes “cheering up” is not what’s needed.
  • Find a way to acknowledge and honor a loved one that may no longer be celebrating with you. Consider writing a note or card to them, displaying their photo, talking about happy memories, making a donation, volunteering or giving a gift in their name. It may also include enjoying the holidays as they would wish for you.
  • Do something for someone in need or who is alone at the holidays. You’ll likely find that in giving, you’ll receive much more.

In summary, forget perfection and an overwhelming to-do list. Take some of the demands off yourself and enjoy the people in your life. Be realistic in your expectations. An attachment to how things “should” be is, in large part, responsible for holiday stress. Look around and see how much there is to appreciate and practice gratitude. Reach out. For more peace and joy any time of year, live in the present and enjoy what IS today. Happy Holidays!