The holiday season often provides an opportunity to be with family and other loved ones, while ushering us towards parties, gift-giving, eating out, and other celebratory events. This seasonal whirlwind can also bring up challenges such as unwelcome guests, financial strain, stress, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. A 2021 CDC report found that the anxiety and depression levels for adults aged 18-29 have doubled compared to 2020. This is most likely due to the long-lasting effects of the pandemic. The virus is still present and active, and the Omicron variant adds extra concerns as we enter the season.
With some slight shifts in your behavior, you may be able to minimize your stress, while creating a supportive environment that centers on wellbeing.
Tips to Manage Holiday Stress
The holidays are rarely “perfect” and that means being flexible and realistic with our time, energy, and expectations. At times, family members and/or holiday time can be trigger memories of past unpleasant experiences or trauma. Communicate your needs and set healthy boundaries with family and friends, especially around COVID-19 risk mitigation. Virtual gatherings can be different, but they can also provide an opportunity for creativity as well as connections across distance. Even though your holiday plans may look different this year, you can find ways to celebrate.
Acknowledge your feelings.
Many of us have experienced loss over the last two years and many more of us are grieving a loss from some time ago. It’s ok to feel sad, and crying or expressing that sadness is normal, especially during the holidays. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings and do not hesitate to ask those you’re closest to for support.
Set aside differences.
It can be easy to politicize current events. Try to practice a pause. Listen with empathy and pause before commenting while thinking to yourself, “Is this statement based on fact or opinion, and do I have the energy to discuss it with compassion?”. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and need some grace or space to pause and process. Also, if it’s best for you to limit interactions with specific individuals around this time, know that it is acceptable to prioritize your care during a challenging time.
Stick to a budget.
Consider these questions when beginning a self-compassion practice:
- How am I feeling right now?
- What does my self-talk sound like?
- Is this self-talk something that I would say to support a small child or good friend?
Try these phrases to exercise self-compassion:
- I am doing the best that I can right now, and that is enough.
- This is a difficult time. It is natural to feel stressed. I am here for you.
- I am safe and supported.
Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends, family, and co-workers will understand if you can’t participate in every activity or project. Saying no is a complete sentence and requires practice in self-compassion, self-preservation, and self-love.
Don’t disregard healthy habits.
In our current climate, wellbeing may or may not be top of mind. Center your wellbeing and engage in activities that boost your mood and enhance your health. These strategies make us more resilient and may improve our outlook.
Try these suggestions:
- Have gratitude and share it, let others know you’re grateful for them.
- Imagine the best case scenario and believe it’s possible.
- Keep a gratitude journal (write down three things your thankful for, daily).
- Give to yourself and forgive yourself.
- Give others the benefit of the doubt (don’t assume, ask).
- Choose positivity.
- Focus on food flexibility. Remember that all foods (yes, all foods!) have nutrition to offer. Savor the holiday flavors!
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Include regular movement in your daily routine.
- Practice deep-breathing exercises, meditation or yoga.
- Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol and drug use.
- Adjust the time you spend reading the news and engaging with social media.
Take a break.
Take some time to relax and be still to reset for the day or wind down at night. It also can be part of the midday recalibration. Use an app for a 5-minute meditation, or just sit quietly with or without soft music. During your quiet time, it’s also nice to replay moments of gratitude.
Seek professional help if you need it.
Caring for your health means both daily personal choices and support from professionals. Some people benefit from regular check-ins with a medical or mental health provider. Others reach out when problems persist. If you’re finding yourself experiencing physical pain, unable to sleep, unable to face routine chores, feeling sad, irritable, or hopeless – and especially if these feelings last for 2 weeks or more – talk to your doctor or mental health professional.
Plan for and manage holiday time instead of allowing the season to manage you. Take steps to minimize the stress, anxiousness, and depression that can be amplified during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can reduce their impact. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.
- Get your heart rate up by trying out the Carolina North Forest, or the Botanical Gardens near campus
- Here are a few apps that can make your meditation journey a whole lot simpler:
Written by Charla Blumell, Assistant Director of UNC Student Wellness leaning on content from the Mayo Clinic, CDC and UNC-Chapel Hill Office of Student Wellness.