Every year, I vow to take things a little bit easier during the holiday season, no matter how hectic my schedule. While I have yet to experience pure bliss during the month of December, I’ve come a long way between my previously frazzled holiday self. The key, I’ve found, is to change your entire outlook and approach to the season.
Where Does Holiday Anxiety Come From?
By the time December arrives, the weather has gotten cold and unpredictable in much of the country, and even the warmest regions face decreased daylight. Even those without seasonal affective disorder are beginning to feel the impact of minimal sunlight, colder temperatures and early sunsets.
It seems that as humans, our natural inclination during the dark months is to turn inward and to reflect upon where we’ve been in our lives and where we’re going. This tendency is encouraged by our cultural celebration of the New Year and the concept of setting resolutions and starting over.
Combine this with the sometimes bittersweet or painful memories of childhood and loss that are often stirred during the holiday season, and you can see why it’s so easy to become frazzled this time of year. We are already in a vulnerable mindset, and when you add in crowded stores and frantic gift shopping, endless preparations, company parties, money woes, unhealthy food, inclement weather and long-distance travel, you have a perfect recipe for holiday anxiety.
Five Ways to Change How You View the Holidays
- Remember what the holidays really mean
Start by examining what the holidays truly mean to you. Whether you’re devoutly religious or simply enjoy the cultural festivities, try to look beyond the commercialization, the presents, and the extra-long to-do list, and contemplate the season on a deeply personal or spiritual level. To me, the holidays mean hope, connectedness with loved ones, sharing joy with those around you, and having gratitude for the opportunity to continue my life’s journey for another year. Move forward in your days with the positive aspects of the holidays in the forefront of your mind and you may find it much easier not to sweat the small stuff.
- Don’t neglect your self-care.
It’s easy to get swept away when there’s so much going on, but when you have anxiety, it’s important to maintain a bit of your self-care routine. Skipping on sleep while consuming too much alcohol and lots of rich food leads your body to function less than optimally. If you’re not careful during the holiday season, you may find yourself feeling sluggish and exhausted, suffering from frequent headaches, or succumbing to a cold or flu virus due to a weakened immune system. You need to focus on quality sleep, eating relatively healthy, and getting some moderate exercise a few times a week. Don’t miss out on those things you truly enjoy about the holidays — indulge in occasional treats and special meals — but balance it out by eating healthy, whole foods the rest of the time and drinking plenty of water. Try keeping the alcohol and caffeine in check as well.
- Get creative with gift giving.
Christmas shopping was once the biggest source of anxiety for me during the holiday season. The highway off-ramp for my nearest mall is backed up for miles starting on Black Friday, and finding a parking spot becomes a ruthless battle with other drivers. It wasn’t until I changed my shopping strategy that I truly found the joy in gift-giving.My biggest recommendation: Avoid the chaos of the malls for last-minute shopping, unless it’s something you truly enjoy. I’ve found wonderful gifts the past several years from local artisans at craft fairs, small shops, and gourmet food stores. All of these places tend to be less mobbed than big-box and mall stores, and there’s the added benefit of supporting small and/or local businesses as well.
- Take the focus off the material.
Considering the fact that Americans accumulate half of their credit card debt during the holiday season, according to the Wealth Management Network, it’s worth noting that gifts do not have to be expensive in order to be meaningful. In fact, they don’t have to be a “thing” at all. Consider gifting your time, such as volunteering to help out with a home improvement project, offering to babysit for a stressed-out parent or bringing someone to a concert or play. These can be some of the most special gifts to receive.
- Commit to positivity in the New Year.
I’ve never been one to set New Year’s Resolutions, but each year I like to renew my commitment to living a life of positivity and balance. Whether you plan on writing out definitive resolutions or you just want to live better, take some time to think about where the past year has taken you and what you’d like to accomplish in the coming year. Where have you found the most success? What parts of your life feel out of balance? Do you like the direction you’re headed in? What steps can you take to improve? I find that answering these questions and contemplating where my path is taking me in the coming year encourages a sense a of hope and clarity in the midst of the holiday madness.