• By Cynthia Weiss

Mayo Clinic Q and A: Handling holiday stress

December 16, 2021
a young African American woman in a white sweater, wearing glasses, looking sad, disappointed, stressed and tired with her head resting on her hands and a holiday Christmas tree and decorations in the background

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Those who are vaccinated for COVID-19 may be planning family gatherings, gift exchanges and big meals this year. After last year, a lot of people are feeling more pressure to make this holiday season even better for their loved ones. Do you have any tips for coping with the stress of it all?

ANSWER: Whenever something is important to those we love, we direct our energy toward creating the perfect experience for them. But often there are elements out of our control including finances, past and present relationships, health, and current events, including the COVID-19 pandemic that interfere with our vision of the perfect holiday season.

When we set high expectations, we can feel stressed and unhappy when we don't meet them. We may feel as if we have let down the people we love most.

The key to coping this time of year is to set realistic expectations. Remember that it's the time you spend together and the memories that you make that are most important. That is what you will remember most.

Try these strategies to keep holiday stress to a minimum:

Don't try to recreate 'perfect' holidays from years past.
People change, and holidays can change right along with them. Make every season new and special in its own way. Reflect on the "lessons learned" from dealing with the pandemic, and bring that sense of meaning into the holiday time.

Don't take too much onto yourself.
You are only one person, and you can only do so much. It's a good idea to delegate. Ask your children to decorate the front yard with Christmas lights. Ask your dinner guests to each bring a favorite dish over the holidays. Enlist your partner's help in wrapping presents. Even if it's not done perfectly, it's something you can do together and will also free up valuable time.

Be gracious when dealing with uncomfortable events or relationships.
We can only take responsibility for ourselves, and we don't have control over the choices of others. Our friends, family and loved ones also have this responsibility. This is where grace comes in. Focus on the people, the relationships and the time-limited nature of the holiday season.

Be OK with moments of stress and negativity that can come up.
It's not realistic to think that the holiday season will be completely stress-free. The reality is that life is going on around us all the time. When difficult situations arise, acknowledge your feelings, try to be patient with yourself and others, and refocus your mind on the bigger picture: what you're truly grateful for this holiday season.

Set a budget and stick to it.
Like it or not, people spend more money during the holidays. Giving and receiving gifts with your loved ones is important, but it is also important to pay your utility bills. Try not to feel pressured into purchasing expensive gifts. Talk to your loved ones about how to make the season special without creating debt, which may contribute to additional stress and resentment.

Take a break.
Don't forget about your own wants and needs during the holidays. Doing something you enjoy can lower your stress level and help you appreciate the holiday season even more. Take a nap, go for a short walk, read a book, light some candles or watch a funny movie. Remember, laughing relaxes the whole body and can relieve physical tension and stress.

Be intentional with your thinking.
Notice where your thoughts are going and create ways to focus them on what is right instead of what is wrong. Notice physical changes in your body. Find ways to relax, and let any negative feelings or thoughts fade away. Your thoughts often determine how you feel. Finding ways to focus on what you have in front of you, the beauty of the season, and what you have accomplished will help you manage fears, tension and anxiety. This often takes practice, and talking to others can help you identify even more ways to shift your thinking during times of stress.

Holidays are meant to be a fun, enjoyable time with friends and family. These tips can help ensure you truly enjoy your time while also managing the potential stress of the season. Dr. Lisa Hardesty, Psychology, Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, Minnesota

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For the safety of its patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in an area not designated for patient care, where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.

Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date

Research disclosures for Dr. Gregory Poland.

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