Ever feel the presence of added pressure during the holiday season, but can’t identify the source? There’s a reason. Between dodging the bombardment of commercialism, running to and from events, and trying to get accommodations and activities just right before the final party push, it’s no wonder you’re feeling depleted. To tackle that whole ‘overwhelmed’ feeling, we tapped Mary Fristad, Ph.D, a psychiatrist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, to give us a rundown of our hidden sources of holiday stress. Here are seven big reasons you’re feeling the heat right now (and how to dial back the blaze in that pressure cooker just a bit).
You’re Feeling “Picture-Perfect Holiday” Pressure
“Our culture promotes a very picture-perfect mentality.” Fristad says. “With the hustle and bustle there are too many demands on our time.” If you fall short of meeting everyone’s expectations, you might not enjoy the season.
Fristad says it’s important to create your own traditions, not those of others. “Don’t feel you have to go window shopping for things you can’t afford while others are shopping, too,” she says. “Start going to the park every year with your family, or volunteer instead.” It’ll feel far more satisfying if you take a break from the busyness or help others have a happier holiday.
You’re Falling Behind on Your Sleep
Who needs sleep when there’s so much to do! If you have this mentality, you won’t perform at your peak, and the stress will continue to build up taking a toll on you in more ways than one.
Fristad says you have to plan ahead. “It can be tough, but having a regular sleep schedule and going to bed at the same time every night can be really beneficial,” she explains. “If you don’t, you won’t have the emotional reserves or cognitive capacity to handle the stressors you face.” And no one likes a Scrooge around Christmas. So, stop answering emails at 11 PM. Hit the sack!
You’re Forgetting to Eat
If you’re swapping meals for protein bars — or worse yet, forgoing meals and snacks entirely — you’re going to be low on energy. And without energy, you can’t tackle your to-do list nearly as effectively.
Take a 10-minute break and eat real, honest food. “Skipping meals only depletes your physical reserves,” Fristad explains. Keep your diet well-balanced with a combination of healthy whole grains, fruits and vegetables — like oatmeal with nut butter for breakfast, fruit and a one-ounce cheese serving for snack, an avocado and turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread for lunch, and fish with sweet potato for dinner, for example. Choose clean eating, choose whole foods, and keep your energy level up.
You’re Not Getting Outside Enough
In the winter, it’s really easy to have the mentality that you’ll just hibernate until the snow dries up. If you do that, not only will you go stir-crazy, but you’ll also be depleting stores of an essential nutrient.
“Find time to go outside during the day,” Fristad says. “It’s vital to get some fresh air, and to see the sun — which is a major source of vitamin D for us, which will help regulate your mood.” So, take a walk. Even go get the mail! A quick trip outside is better than no trip at all.
You’re Not Taking Breaks from Your Loved Ones
Not only do you need to take a break from your work and get outside, but you also need to take a break from the other human beings around you — family and friends, most likely — that might be increasing your stress level. (We’re talking to you, moms).
Fristad suggests down time every single evening. “Each person in the family needs five to 15 minutes of alone time to settle themselves,” she says. “Feel free to pray or meditate, or whatever else calms you.” Yes, it’s the season of togetherness, but it’s best appreciated with (brief) absences to make the heart grow fonder.
You’re Taking Things Too Seriously
So, your son threw his new nerf football into your tree of decorations, did he? If you’re normally zen about the occasional spill or broken plate, and are suddenly tensed up during the holiday rush, you might be taking things a bit too seriously, Fristad says.
“The old saying is true: ‘Laugh it off, so you don’t cry!’” Fristad says. “Mostly, this is about balancing expectations and keeping those in check. Have realistic financial expectations, family expectations and expectations about what you’re able to accomplish.” Nothing’s perfect, and this holiday won’t be either, but that won’t make it any less special or memorable. Next time a mishap occurs, take a moment for perspective to recognize this.
You’re Carrying a Loss With You
Fristad says it’s especially easy to feel the burden of a loss that’s happened in the past year during the holiday season. You might not recognize that’s what you’re feeling at first, but pretty soon the absence will become more and more apparent if you’re no longer able to participate in the same activities you once did with a loved one.
“This time can often be painful, so don’t dust your feelings under the rug,” Fristad says. “Write a letter, appreciating the time you had with this person, or light a candle for them — do something to honor and acknowledge the loss you feel.” Sometimes it’s the simplest gestures that can heal the most.