Sometimes even the experts need a little help staying holly and jolly.
Research shows holiday season stress can feel insurmountable. No one is immune. Mental health professionals, who are usually helping others manage emotions, put their own advice into practice as the year winds down.
Wonder what their secrets are? Below are some ways the experts handle holiday stress:
1. Set aside a few minutes to meditate.
“I manage holiday stress by engaging in the same self-care activities that I already do on a routine basis, particularly exercise and mindfulness meditation. I practice mindfulness during the day to help take one thing at a time and not worry about everything else on my plate.” ―Ricks Warren, clinical associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan
2. Tell yourself it’s OK to take a break from family.
“They all come with stress, tension and a unique history all packed into small rooms for long hours during the holidays. To help with this stress, I try to be prepared, knowing who will be there and who triggers hot buttons in others and in me. Knowing I can leave the room or the conversation is good prevention planning.” ―Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education and chair of the American Psychotherapy Association
3. Spend time unplugged.
“Because of electronics ― email, patient portals, access to paging ― it is important that somehow clinicians ‘turn off’ some of the electronics and sign out so they can really have some time away. Easier said than done, though.” ―Michelle Riba, associate director at the University of Michigan Depression Center
4. Let go of perfection.
“Also, it’s very important for my holiday stress management to accept imperfection, whether it has to do with how a party might go, how many people I get to see, what presents I buy or don’t buy, whether I meet others expectations or not, etc.” ―Ricks Warren
5. Plan ahead.
“Time is always an issue during the holidays. I find that taking a day or two or three in the weeks prior to the holiday helps to reduce stress and time crunch related to all of the holiday events that hit the calendar.” ―Ken Yeager, director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
6. Pay attention to the signs you might be stressed.
“I pay attention to when I begin snapping at the children or my husband, have trouble sleeping, or if I become overwhelmed. I proactively take time to figure out what I need to outsource.” ―Jennifer Gentile, psychologist at telemedicine app LiveHealth Online
7. Be realistic about what you can accomplish.
“No, I’m not making six dozen cookies for the school bazaar. In reality, there just are some things that I choose not to do during the holiday season. Some gatherings are not attended. There will be enough to do without cramming in 67 holiday gatherings. I choose the ones that are less stressful and enjoy.” ―Ken Yeager
8. Make time for your regular routines.
“It is helpful to try to maintain balance between keeping to usual daily routines ― including healthy eating, exercise and getting adequate sleep ― while relaxing a bit to enjoy the festivities. Also, balancing demands on time and attention from friends and family with need for self care is important.” ―Victor Schwartz, chief medical officer at The Jed Foundation
9. Set a comfortable budget for gifts.
“It is so easy to fall into the ‘commercialized holidays’ and strive to buy the ‘perfect’ gift for everyone. To help reduce that stress, I set a spending limit on everyone that is really modest, usually $25 to $50, and I stick to it. It might take some more creativity to find something that they will enjoy, but it reduces my financial stress and it forces me to think, ‘What would they really appreciate?’ ― as opposed to just ‘What do they want?’” ―Dan Reidenberg
10. Enjoy the holiday treats.
“I proactively take steps to ensure I am eating healthy foods but understand that I will NOT be perfect when it comes to my diet, especially over the holidays, and that is OK.” ―Jennifer Gentile
11. Schedule some alone time if it all becomes too much.
“With so many people around the house and stores filled with people, I find it helpful to make sure I take some time to myself. This is not about being selfish, but being OK saying that I deserve some me time, too.” ―Dan Reidenberg
Cheers to a merry and bright season ― and giving stress the boot.
Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and length.