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Tips for taking control of the holidays (so they don’t take control of you)

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While the holiday season can be filled with joy and wonderful moments with family and friends, for many it often also brings unwanted guests — stress and anxiety. A long list of to-do’s and demands on our time, finances and expectations can all add up. Not to mention managing continued worries and uncertainly about COVID-19. The good news? With some practical tips, you can help minimize the stress and find more time for enjoyment.

Tips for lowering stress around the holidays

Taking some simple, conscious steps can help minimize or even ward off situational stress and depression.

    1. Acknowledge your feelings. The holidays can trigger sadness if you’ve recently lost or are missing loved ones. It’s normal to feel this sadness and grief. Allow yourself to feel. It’s ok to cry. And find someone you can share your feelings with. Chances are, you’re not alone.           
    2. Reach out. Seeking out community, religious or other social events can help you connect with others. Many may also have websites, online support groups, social media sites or virtual events.Helping others is often the best way to help ourselves. Consider volunteering your time or doing something to help others. It could be as simple as dropping off a meal or holiday treats to someone who could use it.
    3. Be realistic. It’s not realistic to feel “holiday joy” all the time. In fact, as families grow and change it’s natural to think of and long for how things were. Embrace the change by holding onto favorite traditions while being open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children or other relatives can’t come to your home, find new ways to celebrate together such as starting a group text exchange or scheduling a group video call/celebration.
    4. Set aside differences. Focus on the positives of any family members with whom you may disagree. Don’t bring up “hot topics” and set aside grievances for this time. Also try to be understanding if others get upset or distressed. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress as well.
    5. Create a budget. Give yourself the gift of having a budget. Before you do your gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can realistically afford to spend. This can help make shopping fun and feel less out-of-control. Here are a few ways to minimize gifting stress:
      • Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
      • Give homemade gifts.
      • Start a family gift exchange by drawing names.
    6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends and other holiday activities. This can provide things to look forward to, rather than having events feel like obligations.
    7. Saying “no” is ok. Saying “yes” when you should say “no” can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. And you don’t have to explain or make up excuses. You can simply say, “sorry, that doesn’t work for me that day.”
    8. Keep up healthy habits. The holidays are often about indulgences. Enjoy the treat, but balance it with healthy habits that are good for both your body and mind. Here are a few suggestions:
      • Have a healthy snack before holiday celebrations.
      • Eat healthy meals.
      • Get plenty of sleep.
      • Include regular physical activity in your daily routine.
      • Try deep-breathing exercises, meditation or yoga.
      • Avoid excessive use of alcohol or tobacco.
      • Be aware of how social media is affecting you. Adjust the time you spend reading news or being online as needed.
    9. Give yourself a break. Even those who thrive on the hustle and bustle of the season will benefit from taking a break from the activity. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may leave you feeling refreshed. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm. Here are a few ideas:
      • Take a daily walk
      • Get fresh air
      • Drive around the neighborhood to view seasonal light displays
      • Play your favorite music
      • Listen to a new podcast
    10. Seek professional help if you need it. If you experience feelings of persistent sadness and anxiety, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Don’t let the holidays become something you dread.

Learning to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, helps you control them. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find enjoyment during the holidays.

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