Making the most of the holiday season
Stress and holidays seem to go hand-in-hand. Your busy schedule becomes even busier with preparations and celebrations.
Even in nonholiday times, a recent Stress in America survey showed that 24 percent of adults report extreme stress and more than one-third of adults report that their stress increased over the past year. These adults who already feel extreme stress or increased stress may find the holiday season to be an added challenge.
This may be a good time to try to reframe your thinking about the holidays. Instead of dreading the likely stress ahead, you can view the holidays as an opportunity to enhance your psychological well-being. There are a number of helpful steps you can take to lessen holiday stress and feel more optimistic about the season.
APA offers these tips for the holidays
- Take time for yourself — You may feel pressured to be everything to everyone. But remember that you’re only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Sometimes self-care is the best thing you can do — others will benefit when you’re feeling less stressed. Reflect on aspects of your life that give you joy; go for a long walk; get a massage; or take time to listen to your favorite music or read a new book. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries. Be mindful and focus on the present rather than dwell on the past or worry about the future.
- Volunteer — Find a local charity, such as a soup kitchen or a shelter that needs volunteers and offer to help. Alternatively, participate in a community giving tree program or an adopt-a-family program. Helping others may lift your mood and help you put your own struggles in perspective.
- Have realistic expectations — No Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or other holiday celebration is perfect. View inevitable missteps as opportunities to exercise your flexibility and resilience. A lopsided tree or a burned brisket won’t ruin your holiday — it will create a family memory. If your children’s wish list is outside your budget, talk to them about realistic expectations and remind them that the holidays aren't about expensive gifts.
- Remember what's important — The barrage of holiday advertising can make you forget what the holiday season is really about. If your holiday expense list is running longer than your monthly budget, scale back and remind yourself that what matters most is loved ones, not store-bought presents, elaborate decorations or gourmet food.
- Healthy conversations— Let your family know that holidays are times to express gratitude, appreciation and give thanks for what you all have, including each other. If there is worry about heated disagreements or negative conversations, focus on what you and your family have in common. Families might even plan activities they can do together that foster good fun and laughter, like playing a family game or looking through old photo albums.
- Seek support — Talk about your worries and concerns with close friends and family. Getting things out in the open can help you navigate your feelings and work toward a solution.
How a psychologist can help
If the tips above are not helpful and you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, consult with a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional. He or she can help you identify problem areas and then develop an action plan for changing them.
Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies as to how to adjust your goals so that they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues.
Practicing psychologists use a variety of evidence-based treatments — most commonly, psychotherapy — to help people improve their lives. Psychologists, who have doctoral degrees, receive one of the highest levels of education of any health care professional. On average, they spend seven years in education and training after receiving their undergraduate degrees. Moreover, psychologists are required to take continuing education to maintain their professional standing.
Find nearby psychologists by visiting APA's Psychologist Locator.