7 Ways To Have A Less Anxious And Stressed Christmas Season
Ah, the Christmas season. For some, this is a wonderful time of year filled with fun, peace, joy, laughter, optimism, fellowship, family, friends, good food, giving, winter activities, cozy evenings, and fond memories.
The Christmas season also can be a time for stress, anxiety, sadness, frustration, hurry, loneliness, disappointment, overworking, overeating, over drinking, and overspending.
Many people find the Christmas season to be very stressful. There’s shopping, cooking, cleaning, parties, travel, crowds, the onslaught of advertising telling us about everything we “should” have, expectations, positive and negative anticipation, the fear of failure (giving the “wrong” gifts, an unsuccessful party, disappointing food, inappropriate clothes), the pressure from our family and friends about what they “want,” interactions with people we may not always get along with, and the ingestion of sweets, treats, drinks, and extra calories…to name a few.
The stress coming from all of these activities can adversely affect the body and in many ways. Persistent unrelieved stress can cause the body to become stress-response hyperstimulated and then symptomatic. Once the body becomes overly stressed, it can take a long time to recover. So, managing stress is an important ingredient to surviving the Christmas season and not having to enter into a protracted recovery after it's over.
There is good news, however. Being proactive in your holiday planning can turn an otherwise stressful Christmas season into an enjoyable and memorable one. And one you don’t have to recover from. Here are seven ways to have a happier, less anxious, and less stressed Christmas season.
1. Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is the great refresher. The body does its best repair work when asleep. A reduction in good sleep not only interrupts this important process but also stresses the body. Research has shown that less than six hours sleep per night causes the body’s cortisol levels to rise. Elevated cortisol stresses the body. Elevated stress can make you feel more anxious. So when our sleep is frequently cut short, our physical, psychological, and emotional health can be adversely affected.
To prevent sleep debt and its negative effects, we can plan “sleep-in” days or make time each day for catnaps (or more catnaps) in spite of the many demands and expectations we may have for the Christmas season. Making sure you get regular good sleep during the lead up to and throughout the Christmas season can make a difference in how you will feel physically, psychologically, and emotionally both during and after the Christmas season is over. Getting regular good sleep can also insulate you from a build up of unnecessary stress, which can prevent against the need for a protracted recovery.
Did you know that sleep problems can occur when our sleep schedule frequently changes? Keeping regular sleep hours, in spite of the urge or requests to stay up later, can prevent problems with sleep after the holidays are over.
TIP: Cortisol is the body’s most powerful stress hormone. It causes a number of changes in the body, including increasing stimulation and the perception of danger. Getting regular good sleep can keep cortisol to a minimum, which can reduce the feelings of danger and dread.
Research has shown that getting less than six hours of restful sleep per night can cause cortisol levels to rise 40 percent higher than when getting 6.5 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Maintaining good sleep can go a long way to maintaining a healthy level of cortisol production.
2. Take frequent rest breaks
A great way to minimize the build-up of stress is to take regular rest breaks. Making sure to take time to rest and relax each day can keep your body and mind healthy, especially during busy or pressure-filled times like the Christmas holiday season.
Also, resting for even five minutes here and there throughout the day can be enough to diffuse and offset a build up of stress.
Practicing a daily deep relaxation technique is a great way to diffuse the buildup of stress and keep the body well rested during busy times. Research has shown that deep relaxing for 20 minutes can provide as much rest value has a few hours of sleep. So, making time each day to deeply relax is a small thing you can do to keep yourself healthy during and after the Christmas season.
TIP: Research has shown that regular deep relaxation is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress. Research has also shown that people who regularly deep relax, such as using meditation, have better control over their thinking and emotions than those who don’t. This better control can make a sizable difference when containing anxious behavior.
3. Be sensible about what you eat
It’s easy to get caught up in all of the food choices during the Christmas holiday season. Overeating and eating too much of a “seasonal” favorite are common causes of increased stress - high sugar foods stress the body.
Many people give themselves permission to forget about their diets and celebrate the holidays with eating anything and any time they want. While loosening up a little to feast is healthy, throwing caution to the wind and then paying for it with months of recovery may not be the best choice.
This year rather than overindulging, “sample” and eat less overall. Also, eat slower. Because it takes approximately twenty minutes for the brain to let us know that our stomach is full, when you eat slower, you eat less than someone who eats faster.
Another strategy is to eat a little bit at a time, then give yourself twenty minutes before you eat more. If you do this, you may discover that you don’t need or want as much as you originally thought.
Being selective about what you eat and watching the amount you eat can help prevent the unnecessary stress that comes from undisciplined eating. The more you manage your stress now, the less of an issue it will be after the Christmas season is over.
Again, as stress increases so can the feelings of being anxious increase. Keeping your stress within a healthy range can prevent feeling overly anxious during and after the Christmas season.
4. Be mindful of what you drink
It’s easy to overindulge in what you drink during the Christmas holidays. Even though what we drink is liquid, many drinks are high in raw sugar, calories, and/or alcohol, which stress the body.
Moreover, alcohol is a mood-lowering drug that also adversely affects the body’s nervous system. While you may feel good WHEN you are drinking, your body will experience the negative effects afterwards. Be mindful about what you ingest, because it ALL has an affect on the body, mind, and mood.
TIP: Raw sugar foods (such as soft drinks, sweeteners, and fruit juices) and alcohol punish the body’s nervous system. An agitated nervous system can aggravate the effects of anxiety and stress. Keeping raw sugar foods and alcohol to a minimum can help reduce the negative effects of anxiety and stress, as well as prevent a protracted recovery from the adverse effects of anxiety and stress.
5. Enjoy your holidays moment by moment
Too often, we spend our time in the past (with regret, guilt, resentment, sadness) or the future (imagining the future in an apprehensive manner). When we do this, we convert the treasures in the present moments to the despair of the past events that are often long over or to the angst of future events that may never occur.
Our life experience is derived from how we think about things. As we allow our thoughts to ramble, so plays out our life experience and quality of life.
Learning to be more in the moment is a great way to eek out every joyous moment of the Christmas season. As we savor each joyous moment, we improve the overall quality of our life experience.
Children often spend most of their time in the moment, which is why they are often happier and have more fun. As adults, we want to relearn this approach so that we, too, can have more fun and reduce our stress (it’s stressful being remorseful about the past and apprehensive about the future).
Living in the moment is a great way to discover the present joys in life and experience each one of them to the fullest.
TIP: Mindfulness – being present in the moment – can reduce anxiety, since anxiety occurs when we think about the future in an apprehensive manner. The more time you spend in the present, the less time you’ll spend thinking apprehensively.
6. Reduce your expectations
The majority of stress and pressure come from how we think. Often, it’s our unrealistic expectations (ideas that something should occur or should occur in a certain way) that are at the root of our disappointment and stress. Just because we can imagine something doesn’t mean it “has to” or “should” come true, or come true the way we imagined. Remember, thoughts are just fleeting notions. We don’t have to believe everything we think, nor should we.
Learning to lower or eliminate expectations is not only a great way to reduce stress and frustration but also a simple way to have more fun and enjoyment. If your expectations are realistic, you won’t be disappointed as often, and the things that do occur can be received with joy and thankfulness.
Unrealistic expectations is one of the great saboteurs of happiness and peace of mind. Eliminating expectations is a great way to be pleasantly surprised and pleased with what actually occurs.
7. Do what you like to do
The Christmas season is often filled with things you feel you ‘have to’ or ‘should’ do. Feeling you need to attend a party because you believe someone expects you to, believing you have to attend an event so that others won’t be disappointed, or having to spend time with people you don't necessarily get along with are examples of doing things because you believe you ‘have to’ rather than what you want to. Most often, doing things we feel we have to creates stress, and for people who are overly anxious, anxiety.
So this season, plan on doing more things you want to do rather than things you feel you have to do. It's healthy to say ‘no’ to requests or demands you don't want to fulfill. Spending most of your time doing the things you want to do is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, and increase joy during the Christmas season. Sure, some people may be upset with your choices, but that's their issue not yours. You have a right to do the things you want to do. Those who disagree or become upset with your choices are infringing on your rights.
Spending time doing the things you love and want to do is a great way to celebrate the Christmas season and increase the quality of your life experience. This isn’t being selfish but authentic. Having healthy boundaries is essential to living authentically.
TIP: Living with healthy boundaries substantially reduces the anxiety that comes from self-esteem and relationship issues.
All of us at anxietycentre.com wish you and your loved ones a very merry Christmas and New Year season. May it be filled with joy, celebration, and gratitude.
For 25 more tips, see our “How to Have a Happier and Less Stressed Christmas Season" section in Chapter 14 in the Recovery Support area.
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Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated January 1, 2019.