4 Easy Ways to Avoid Holiday Stress

Balancing your commitments can be a struggle on any day of the year. But add in the demands of the holidays, and it can quickly seem impossible. The Counseling Center offers some simple ways to approach the season’s to-dos.

Holiday StressIt’s early November, and the 2010 holiday season is already upon us. Decorations are up and your precious winter weekends are nearly booked solid. The clock is ticking down to the end of the semester and you still have a million things to do. Finding the right balance between all of your commitments on any day of the year can be a struggle. But add in the extra demands the holidays can bring, and it can quickly seem impossible. Counseling Center Director Richard Shadick, PhD, offers a few simple ways to approach the season’s to-dos to help us enjoy this much-anticipated time of the year.

  1. Reevaluate your expectations.
    We’re all guilty of thinking that the holidays need to be fun, exciting, and happy,” says Shadick. “So if we’re not feeling happy, excited, or having fun, we believe there must be something wrong.” It’s easy to get overwhelmed looking at all we need and want to do over the next several weeks—the parties, the gifts, and our responsibilities at work, he continues. “We tell ourselves we can get it all done by the end of the calendar year—completing deadline-driven assignments, shopping for gifts, entertaining at home, and attending parties for work, family and friends. By having realistic expectations of ourselves, of the holidays, and what we can reasonably accomplish at this time of year, we can alleviate some of our stress.”
  2. Stick close to your regular eating and exercise routine—as much as possible.
    Holiday parties are the perfect place to overindulge. “At parties there are lots of unhealthy foods and usually alcohol. If you find yourself going to several parties, and you’re already a busy professional, you won’t get a chance to eat as many balanced meals or exercise as often as your body needs,” says Shadick. His advice: Go easy on unhealthy foods, limit your alcohol, stick to a regular exercise routine, and get adequate sleep. Another idea? “Instead of shopping for holiday gifts, use your lunch hour to exercise,” he recommends. Walk around the block, the parking garage, or the building.
  3. Take a serious look at your schedule and commit to making some hard—but meaningful—decisions regarding your personal time.
    Is your stack of holiday invitations stressing you out? (By the way, even Emily Post wrote that no one is obligated to accept every invitation!) “Accept only the ones that mean the most to you and politely decline the others,” Shadick says. Are you worried about meeting your deadlines at work? Shadick advises to prioritize your work goals and deadlines to determine which ones must get done now and which ones can wait until after the holiday season.
  4. Integrate small stress-management techniques into your everyday activities.
    A five-minute break can make a tremendous difference in the rest of your day. “Take a few moments of quiet time in your office,” he says. Close your door, shut your eyes, and breathe deep. And remember Pace’s Employee Assistance Program, which includes 24/7 phones support, referrals for free counseling, the Healthy Rewards Program, and more. He also recommends keeping a journal to track what’s causing you stress. “Write down your thoughts and feelings about whatever it is, and your reaction,” he says. “After a few weeks’ time, you’ll see what your trigger points are, so you’re prepared—for next year’s holiday season!”