There’s no denying the holiday season can be stressful, with events to plan, gifts to buy and large meals to make. You may be traveling and spending time with in-laws and family members you may not visit very often. Don’t forget spending time with your friends, and now your child’s teacher needs a gift, and what about your mail carrier and your co-workers? So much activity can be a recipe for stress.
Stop stressing out
There are many strategies for managing tension, but the key to not stressing out is to follow some of the basic principles of mindfulness—especially the principle of non-judgment. Did Aunt Edna turn her nose up at that perfect sweater you found for her? Choose not to judge yourself, and accept that it is not possible to please everyone, and that’s OK. Is your airplane delayed, or is there a snowstorm slowing you down? Try telling yourself, “I’ll get there when I get there,” to defuse frustration.
Nothing adds to holiday stress quite like the feeling of I’ll never get everything done in time. If this happens to you during the holidays, make a list far in advance and start working on it early. Try shopping online to save time fighting in-store crowds. If you find yourself short on time, delegate tasks to others. If you often feel overwhelmed by the big holiday meal, turn it into a potluck and let others share their favorite dishes. If it’s too large of a task to buy gifts for everyone, create a secret gift exchange. Each person participating can send out a wish list, and everyone gets a gift.
Reconnect with others—and yourself
Take time for yourself, too. If you’re traveling, take your regular relaxation routine on the road. Maybe you can pack your yoga mat. Ask family members if you can go along with them to the gym, or get a guest pass in the town you’re visiting.
Most importantly, use the holidays not just as a time for gift-giving, but also as a time to reconnect with the people in your life. Studies show happiness is best created through shared experiences, which contribute to well-being by supporting the basic human needs for belonging and inclusion. Recent research by Cornell University psychologist Thomas Gilovich shows people are more satisfied by spending money on shared experiences than on material goods; have fewer regrets about their purchases; and are more likely to describe excitement and pleasant anticipation. In other words, people are much happier booking a family vacation than they are buying the newest flat-screen TV.
This holiday season, set a new goal for less stress and aim for a calmer new year. Focus on making memories with your family and building traditions—you’ll be happier for it.
Natalie Walsh, N.D., M.S. (www.drwalshnd.com), is a resident physician at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, Washington, and an instructor at Bastyr University. She has a doctorate in naturopathic medicine and a master’s degree in applied ecology.