Holiday Stress and Over stimulation

*Previously published in the December issue of Neighbors of Chapel Hill

The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, laughter, and togetherness and yet many people report it as one of the most stressful times of year. Have you ever stopped to wonder why that might be?

From cleaning and cooking to decorating, holiday parties, family gatherings and gift giving, the holidays are a time when we are often expected to do more, spend more, and socialize more. And, while these activities can bring a lot of joy and excitement to the holidays, they can also lead to an increase in stress and anxiety.

Have you ever been excited to head out to do some Christmas shopping, only to find yourself anxious, upset and wishing you were home in the warmth of your living room an hour later? The lights, sounds, and increases in people out and about during the holiday season can sometimes lead to over stimulation and an increase in the body’s stress response. If you become overstimulated, a simple grounding exercise can help calm the body and mind (see below for a simple exercise).

Below are a few helpful hints to make the holidays a more enjoyable time of year.

  1. Create a schedule for cleaning and decorating tasks. Commit to completing one room at a time and keep it simple. Pacing yourself is a great way to get everything done without burning yourself out.

  2. Start a cookie/dessert exchange with friends. Splitting the work among friends means that you’ll spend less time in the kitchen baking without sacrificing the variety of desserts you want to offer your guests. Use the extra time to sit by a fire and read a book or take a nice bath at the end of the day to release stress and return your body and mind to balance.

  3. Decide ahead of time how many holiday parties you will attend and say no to the rest. Use the word, thank them for the invitation but don’t apologize or justify your decision. It can be tempting to say yes to everyone and this can leave you feeling exhausted, anxious and wishing the holidays away.

  4. Stick to a budget. Take some time to write a list of everyone you want to buy for over the holidays and decide on a budget. If money is tight, or your list is especially long, consider creative ways to offer a gift such as homemade baked goods or crafts.

  5. Commit a minimum of thirty minutes per day to self-care. Self-care doesn’t have to be elaborate. Read a book, watch a television show or movie, or spend some time with a friend, family member or pet. Taking the time to focus on something other than the buzz of the holidays is a great way to decrease stress and increase your capacity to tolerate the over stimulation that often accompanies the holiday season.

Stress during the holidays is normal however if stress is leaving you feeling anxious and depressed and you are finding your self-isolating or avoiding activities you otherwise would expect to enjoy, you may find speaking to your family doctor or therapist helpful. There are many ways to tolerate stress and anxiety during the holidays so reach out and ask for support if you need it.