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Survive Holiday Stress with These Four Strategies

By Stephanie Toelle, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent at UF-IFAS Duval County, Jackie Schrader, 4-H/Family and Consumer Science Extension Agent at  UF-IFAS Clay County, and Melanie Thomas, Food Preservation/Housing & Energy Conservation Agent at UF-IFAS Duval County
Reviewed by Heidi Radunovich, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

As we approach the holidays, people will get stressed. There are parties to attend, budgets to keep, projects to finish, and winter traveling to do. All of that stress piles up. Sadly, research finds that the holiday period is marked by increased family violence, escalated by the pressures that families feel.  We recommend four ways to reduce your holiday stress:

1. Plan Ahead and Organize

Develop a time management plan.

  • List your projects, large and small, with no time obligations. Check items off as completed.
  • Add a time sequence to your projects, ranking them by importance.
  • Commit your projects to a calendar.

Consider what your family really enjoys doing together as you rank the importance of your projects. Find strategies to make time for these activities, which will build memories and family unity.

2. Set Realistic Expectations

Anticipating the “perfect” family holiday can lead to disappointment. Family traditions and routines, while giving a sense of meaning to the family, can be inflexible or a burden to a host or hostess. Perhaps you are packing too much “family time” into a couple of weeks. Why not spread out the fun over the month, both before and after the holiday?

Some recommendations to help with expectations include:

  • Accept people and/or the situation as they are.
  • Recognize that people don’t always get along, travel delays will happen, and the décor or food may not be perfect or to your specifications.
  • Consider asking for adjustments or accommodations to your family’s traditions if something isn’t working.
  • Limit your holiday activities by talking to family members about their most meaningful traditions and prioritizing them.
  • Talk to children about the meaning of gifts in the family and what they can expect, despite what they may hear from friends or see on TV. Shift the focus to giving gifts within the immediate family or to others in need.

3. Take Care of Yourself

When we feel pressure to get ”everything” done for the perfect holiday, we often overextend and exhaust ourselves. We become susceptible to illness when we want peak performance. Take time for rest, exercise, and healthy snacks and meals—but find a moment for a mini-indulgence or reward as well.

4. Manage Your Thoughts

You might feel anxious about unhappy memories, conflicts, or the absence of family members. Try taking another perspective by reframing the situation in a more positive way. Acknowledge absent family members by telling stories involving them, or Skype or call them so they can be included. When there is conflict, treat the other person with respect, being careful with the way you look at them, the way you use your voice, how you select your words, and your choice of body language. Listen to them until you feel you really understand their point of view and feelings. Be reflective by paraphrasing or repeating word for word to check for meaning. If a problem comes up, define the problem. Sometimes people are arguing about two different issues! Find and try a solution that seems to benefit all.

Hopefully, these four strategies will help you have a truly joyous holiday season this year.

(Photo credit: Xmas toys by I See Modern Britain. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)

References:

Radunovich, H. (2013). Managing stress during the holidays. Retrieved from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1404

Griffin, R. M. Home for the holidays: Tips for overcoming holiday anxiety and stress. WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/home-for-the-holdays-stress-tips.

Dickson, F.C. (2010). Avoiding family stress and conflict during the holidays. Communication Currents 5(6). Retrieved from http://www.natcom.org/CommCurrentsArticle.aspx?id=1000.

Foston-English, M. (2014). Surviving the family holiday. BeWell@Stanford. Retrieved from https://bewell.stanford.edu/surviving-the-family-holiday.

Wheeler, R.B. (2010). How to avoid holiday family stress. Everyday Health. Retrieved from http://www.everydayhealth.com/healthy-holidays/how-to-avoid-holiday-family-stress.aspx