December is here again. Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza. Whichever holiday you celebrate, the “holiday season” can also mean stress, tension, lack of time and even financial pressure. But by using a few simple mental focus hacks, you can dial back that stress and have a lot more fun.
The statistics are grim. December means holidays, which means stress. According to a Think Finance survey, the financial pressure of the holidays is so great that 45% of Americans would prefer to skip them altogether.
The American Psychological Association reports that nearly 25% feel “extreme stress” during the holidays. And nearly 70% feel stressed by a perceived lack of time or money, with over half experiencing stress due to perceived pressure to give or receive gifts.
That’s a lot of stressed out people. And all for something that is supposed to be fun and meaningful. It doesn’t have to be like this.
How to Banish Your Holiday Stress
Removing your holiday stress and replacing it with fun and fulfillment isn’t as hard as it sounds. A few practical actions coupled with small changes in your focus and perspective can literally transform your holiday.
Try these 4 steps to start celebrating rather than stressing over your holiday this year:
1. Start with the big picture. A lot of holiday stress comes from getting swept up in all the little things and forgetting the big picture of why you’re doing this. Before you start shopping for gifts, planning meals, or anything else, take a moment to describe what you find meaningful about your holiday. What parts of it give you fulfillment or joy? Why are you giving gifts or hosting family meals in the first place?
Literally make your top 10 or top 5 list of “Reasons I Celebrate My Holiday.” Write it down so that you can refer back to it whenever you find yourself getting swept away by all the little details.
As silly as this may sound, having a written list of why you really celebrate your holiday – your big picture – will give you a foundation from which to work through the details. If you always keep the big picture in mind, you’re not as likely to get caught up in the small and stressful. You’ll be more inclined to notice and be grateful for all the good things that come with your holiday. And you’ll more easily say no to those commitments and demands on your time and budget that don’t contribute to your big picture.
2. Have a plan. The more you plan out your holiday in advance - and stick to your plan - the more you'll feel in control and the less stress you’ll have. Decide ahead of time what your gift budget will be. And remember that your budget and the kinds of gifts you give (or not) are solely for you to decide, and need not be the product of other people’s expectations.
Shop early based on your plan, and then let it go. If you shop at the beginning of December – either without the crowds that come later to the stores, or else on the internet – you’ll avoid lots of stress by putting a major task to bed, and then being able to move on and focus on the holiday (your big picture). You can do the same for holiday meals and any other major holiday task.
3. Cultivate gratitude. See “start with the big picture” above. Remember why you’re celebrating your holiday in the first place. If you actively think about what you’re grateful for during the holiday season, and even write it down, you’ll much more easily be able to maintain the big picture and avoid the stress.
You can be grateful for family, friends, the ability to give and receive gifts, the meaning of the holiday and your faith tradition, and virtually anything big or small – as appropriate to your situation. Even if your current life situation is challenging, if you start digging, you’ll become aware of many reasons to be grateful.
Another way to express your gratitude is to volunteer during the holiday season (and beyond) to help those less fortunate than you. Volunteering actually reduces stress and the risk of depression.
4. Make space for yourself. Many of us become stressed around the holidays because we suddenly feel saddled with so much to do on top of our already busy schedules. And so what is supposed to be a joyous time instead becomes a battle to find time for ourselves.
The more you can make space for yourself during the holiday season, the better you will be able to handle the extra demands on your time and energy. Although taking a formal break such as an afternoon at a museum can be ideal, it may not be practical if you already feel pressed for time.
Fortunately, making space for yourself need not take a lot of time. Go on a 20 minute walk. Set a timer and close your eyes and relax for just five minutes, You’ll feel better if you turn away from your phone while waiting in the supermarket checkout line and simply focus on your breathing instead.
By reclaiming even little bits of space for yourself, you’ll have an easier time ditching the stress, which in turn will give you more focus and energy to get all those things done. You'll avoid getting swallowed up in the details and instead keep your eye on the big picture – which of course is why you’re celebrating your holiday in the first place.