UF expert: Six ways to counter holiday stress

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Does just thinking about the holidays stress you out? You’re not alone, says a human development expert with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“The holidays are supposed to be about togetherness, giving and celebrating, but they can certainly create stressful situations,” said Heidi Radunovich, associate professor of family, youth and community sciences. “For example, getting together with relatives you don’t often see can be a great time for family bonding — that is, until someone says something at the dinner table that starts a heated political debate.”

Fortunately, there are things you can do to mitigate stressors and make the holidays both a fun and relaxing time, Radunovich said.

  1. Plan ahead as a group.

“Deciding where and how to spend the holidays can set off arguments and lead to hurt feelings,” Radunovich said. “Make sure that people are part of the planning and agree to how things will go.”

Topics to discuss ahead of time may include food preparation, travel plans and how you will handle family traditions, she said.

  1. Manage expectations.

“We can put pressure on ourselves to make the holidays perfect. When our unrealistic expectations don’t come true, this can lead to stress and frustration,” Radunovich said.

“There are already a lot of stressors associated with the holidays that can tap out our resources for coping, making it harder to deal with even minor stressors. Keep in mind that the goal is to enjoy your time together, and avoid trying to cram in too many activities, or making every meal or event perfect,” she said.

  1. Head off personal conflicts.

Agree to take hot button issues — political or otherwise — off the table.

“Just because you are related doesn’t mean you share the same world view. While these differences can be ignored most of the time, prolonged periods in close quarters mean different opinions will eventually get voiced,” Radunovich said.

“If there are issues family members know exist, and people simply can’t see eye to eye on them, it can be helpful to set ground rules and agree that those topics won’t be brought up,” she said. “Keep in mind that you can love someone even if you don’t like their views on particular topics.”

  1. If conflicts do arise, stay calm.

“It’s a lot easier to have a productive discussion if everyone is calm. If you or other family members get into a fight, do what you can to keep or regain everyone’s composure before moving forward,” Radunovich said.

“Regaining composure may mean removing yourself from the situation for a while. You can try leaving the room, going for a walk or engaging in some other soothing activity,” she said. “When you come back, it will be easier to see one another’s points of view, and come up with creative solutions and compromises.”

  1. Focus on the positives.

Inevitably, something will go wrong with our holiday plans—a flight will be delayed, cookies will get burnt, a gift will be out of stock.

“Don’t let these hiccups overshadow the positive aspects of the holidays, such as spending quality time with family and friends,” Radunovich said.

  1. Remember to take care of yourself.

In the rush to make sure everyone has a good time, we may neglect our own needs, especially if we are under stress, Radunovich explained.

“It’s easy to let healthy habits slide during the holidays. We might give ourselves permission to indulge more than usual, stay up later or drop our exercise routines. We’re also less likely to set aside time for ourselves to do something relaxing, like reading a book or listening to music. However, taking care of your physical and mental health can be an antidote to holiday strain,” she said.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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