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Ways to Beat Holiday Stress That Actually Help

"When's Sara's not writing you can find her hanging out with teenagers at her day job as a counselor and with her own son and daughter. With a B.S. in Exercise Science and a M. Ed. in counseling, she enjoys writing about health, wellness...

Here's how to deal with holiday stress & actually enjoy this time of year

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Well, that depends. The holidays are meant to be a joyful time of celebration, family, gathering and cheer. But far too often, the high expectations that come with this merry season can trigger stress, anxiety and even depression.

“The holidays are associated with images of joy, vacation, food and gifts; but they are also a time of financial stress, travel woes, remembering people you’ve lost and dealing with family members who may not be easy to deal with,” explains psychotherapist Dr. Mike Dow, author of the book Heal Your Drained Brain.

Don’t let the fast-paced, emotionally charged nature of the season burn you out before the festivities even begin. There are several ways to take your stress level down a notch and enjoy the holidays this year.

Prioritize yourself over others

Even though the holidays are all about giving, we can’t give what we don’t have. You have to take care of yourself first in order to have anything left for those around you. "Remember to invest in yourself and participate in healthy self-care practices," says psychotherapist and relationship coach, Rachel Dack. She also recommends sticking to a healthy sleep routine; setting healthy boundaries with coworkers, family, and friends; exercising regularly; and feeding your body nutritious food (but also allow yourself the freedom to indulge occasionally). Say no to at least two or three invites, and instead, take a night to yourself. It can be a stress reliever to relax and enjoy alone time.

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Don’t forget that “no” is a complete sentence

“Saying yes when you want to say no is a setup for added stress,” says Ashley Graber, curriculum co-director at Evenflow.

. Family, friends and coworkers ask a lot of you this time of year. Graber reminds us to use this as an opportunity to practice doing what is right for you.

Honor “good enough”

So many people strive for perfection around the holidays. Whether that’s in the kitchen, with the perfect gift or decking out the house with the best lights (remember Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation?). “People don’t really care if your turkey came out perfectly — they are at your holiday table because they want to share time with you,” says psychotherapist and change accelerator Aimee Bernstein.

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She also recommends we ease off the need to control and let go of our attachment to how things should be. “Practice being open to other possibilities, become curious about what’s really in front of you rather than being judgmental; and most importantly, open your heart to what life and this holiday season [have] to offer.”

Take a breathing break

Nutritionist Dr. Jonny Bowden recommends taking a four-minute time-out for yourself. You can do this exercise anywhere from the bathroom to your car (even a closet will do in a pinch). Bowden says to sit quietly, close your eyes and set your watch for four minutes. Breathe — deeply and consciously. Think to yourself, "Count of seven in, hold for four and slow exhale on five."

“Even four minutes — a couple of times a day — will lower your blood pressure, change your brain waves, and calm your soul,” says Bowden.

Limit time with difficult family members

We all have that one person in our family who pushes our buttons. If being around certain people kicks your stress and anxiety into high gear, then you need to make a plan (ahead of time) for how you’re going to manage this common holiday trigger. The most obvious solution is to limit your time with this family member. But if staying clear is not an option, your next best strategy is to rehearse in advance how to respond to comments that set you off and focus on what you can control in your interaction with them — not on trying to control them.

More: How to Handle Emotional Eating During the Holidays

Have a spending plan

Another major stressor for people this time of year is money. Often, people will overspend on presents, decorations and party planning and then feel huge regret once the calendar rolls over to the next year. Instead of dealing with buyer's remorse once January hits, try setting a budget. Although it sounds too simplistic to even work, the act of sitting down and planning out what you are going to spend your money on and then sticking to it can help alleviate a lot of stress. You can even try one of the budgeting apps to make things easier.

Infuse a little mindfulness into everything you do

If you are not present in the moment, not only will you miss celebrating the holidays, but you will also feel more anxious about the future. Whether you’re stuck in line at the store or waiting to check in at the airport, Dow says to notice three things you see, two things you hear and one thing you feel with your skin. “This 3-2-1 approach is a way to be mindful and can help take you away from the frustration and worry associated with everyday stressors,” Dow says.

So take a deep breath and some time for yourself and enjoy this holiday season.

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