The holidays often arrive with the expectation of being “the most magical time of year.” From glimmering lights to family reunions, the season can certainly be beautiful—and yet it also arrives with a significant amount of stress for many. Feuding family members at your dining table, a holiday gift list that exceeds your budget, crushing loneliness, the feel of a cold coming on—all can wreak havoc on your health and mood and turn even the most cheerful among us into a Bah Humbug.
Fortunately, there are dozens of methods to manage the holidays with poise and grace—and savor the season while you’re at it. Read on for five common stressful holiday scenarios—and five proven ways to ace them.
Holiday Stress Causes & Solutions
1. Holiday stress scenario: Your healthy diet has officially gone out the window
Urban myth suggests we gain an average of 7 pounds during the winter holidays. While that number may be exaggerated—typically, people gain a single pound over the course of the season—the angst may be justified. From plates of Christmas cookies circulating around the office to indulgent holiday dishes, the one constant of the season seems to be the ongoing enjoyment of rich, calorie-laden eats.
For those of us who normally attempt to eat healthfully, it may seem like our aspirations hit one barrier after the next—primarily in the form of pecan pie and dark chocolate peanut brittle. And it’s less about the weight that might pack on than the experience of feeling…well, icky. Add to the fact that social obligations and frigid weather may restrict your workouts, and you have the perfect storm for decimating your hard-earned body confidence.
The solution: Enrich your mind-body connection
The general overwhelm of the holidays can sever the wires between your brain and body—leading you to believe you have a hankering for something sugary because there’s a candy cane right in front of you rather than listening in to your body’s cues that you actually need protein.
No matter how frantic your life becomes over the holidays, carve out solo time for yourself to cultivate your mind-body relationship. Once this is solidly in place, you can breeze through the season, knowing when you’re hungry, when you’re sated, when you need to slip in a workout, and when you must rest. Mindfulness exercises such as yoga and meditation can deepen this connection, giving you the peace of mind you need to relish the holidays—including that piece of brittle you’re genuinely craving.
2. Holiday stress scenario: Loneliness and isolation
Whether you’re single, mourning the passing of a loved one, or unable to visit your friends and family this winter, the excessive amount of attention that’s paid to socializing and family gatherings over the holidays can provoke a nearly unbearable feeling of loneliness and isolation—and it isn’t made any easier when we consider the stories and images on our social media feeds. Indeed, the American Psychological Association states that 25% of people report feeling lonely during this time of year, and it disproportionately hits older generations.
We don’t need to be physically alone to experience these difficult emotions, either: Awkward social situations, crowds we’ve never felt a part of, and disputes with our partner or family members can be just as isolating.
The solution: Step outside
When feelings of loneliness and isolation strike, it can be all too easy to close the shades, crawl underneath the covers, and wallow in a marathon of holiday tearjerkers. (We see you, The Family Stone.) And yet, languishing in loneliness might only exacerbate it.
The suggestion to step outside is both literal and figurative. Fresh air and time in nature can instantly lift a sorrowful mood, while engaging in an activity with others—whether it’s a Friendsgiving with your colleagues from work or volunteering at a soup kitchen—mitigates loneliness, offers a sense of togetherness, and, with offering a helping hand, contributes to a better world.
And if you feel isolated amid friends and family? Turn it into an exercise in compassion and unity: Search for a commonality you might share with each individual in attendance. It could be something as substantial as originally hailing from the same part of the country, or as minor as both loving the rosemary gorgonzola bites your host is serving.
3. Holiday stress scenario: A rapidly-dwindling bank account
It isn’t just you: Data demonstrates that the holidays aren’t just the jolliest time of year: They’re also the priciest. Sixty three percent of Americans feel pressured to overspend, and a sizable chunk of us go all out over the holidays. Between decorating and dining out, airline travel and holiday gifts, your expenses can add up quickly, causing you to accrue debt in the process and potentially amplifying your post-holidays blues and angst.
The solution: Get creative
There are countless ways to cut down on spending over the holiday season—and chances are many of your friends and family members will be eager to follow suit. Instead of purchasing gifts for every member of your extended family, consider drawing names or opting for a White Elephant party—a gift exchange that also goes by the name of Yankee Swap and Dirty Santa.
Rather than gifting your partner or sister an extravagant present, consider an experiential gift instead, such as a day on the golf course, or watching their children so they can spend an afternoon at the spa. From opting for a less expensive bottle of wine when hosting a holiday dinner to resisting impulse purchases, you can stay within your means—especially if you use an app like Mint or Goodbudget.
4. Holiday stress scenario: Family feuds
Lofty expectations, unresolved issues, a surplus of spiked eggnog and sugary desserts, close, intimate spaces with people you haven’t seen in ages—the holidays have all the makings of happiness but also hold the potential for interpersonal conflicts and high drama.
Whether you find yourself an active participant in such turmoil or are merely observing it from the other (safer) side of the table, family feuds are notorious for adding a little too much spice to the holidays. And while some may be completely unavoidable—unless you book tickets to the Caribbean to dodge your loved ones altogether—they needn’t turn your holidays sour.
The solution: Stress support—and an exit strategy
There are plenty of ways to combat stress both leading up to a family gathering that has you tense weeks in advance and when you’re in the thick of it. In addition to adequate (and enjoyable) exercise, sound sleep, and a nutritious diet, consider weaving an adaptogen into your health routine. These ancient herbal remedies, such as rhodiola rosea, work with your body and mind to curb physical and mental stress—and grant you with the calm you need to navigate uncomfortable social situations.†
Furthermore, have an exit strategy mapped out in advance, whether it’s a safe word with your partner that means let’s go, stat or letting your loved ones know you need to leave at 9pm sharp. Some fights may be inescapable, but you don’t have to put yourself through the misery of enduring them.
5. Holiday stress scenario: Winter colds and flu
The season may be aglow with luminous holiday lights and crackling fireplaces but spending time inside around hordes of people—or even rallying for some last-minute shopping at a jam-packed Target—can raise your risk of coming down with a winter cold or flu, which can throw a wrench into your holiday plans and leave you feeling awful.
The solution: Pre-emptive measures
A strong immune system is essential at all times, but it takes on a new level of importance during the winter months, when your exposure to germs and bacteria increases.
To this end, pile your plate with immune-boosting foods, such as broccoli, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and citrus fruits. Bone up—literally—with vitamin D, which organically supports your immune system. Zinc, meanwhile, naturally fosters immune health by supporting the integrity of your mucus membranes—one of your first lines of defense against germs. New Chapter’s Fermented Zinc Complex, for instance, brims with not just zinc but also elderberry and astragalus—two herbs that have the potential to promote wellness.†
Above all, sink into the joy of the season: Nearly everything is surmountable when you’re operating from a grateful, contented place.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.