The holidays are traditionally a mix of happy and stressful emotions. There are the fun traditions to look forward to as well as time away from work, but commonly there can be friction associated with seeing many family members of differing backgrounds and ideologies at the same time of year. Additionally, it is easy to become irritated with complicated holiday travel or stressed about spending large sums of money on gifts. So while the holidays are advertised as the most wonderful time of the year, there are several built-in constraints that can hinder the joy you may feel during the holiday season.

The good news is that the most common and intense stressors around the holidays are often predictable and thus can be planned for. Rather than heading into the season thinking, here we go again, try to take a new, active role in helping yourself enjoy the holidays and minimize your stress. While some level of stress may be unavoidable, consider the following tips to promote your emotional and physical well-being.

    • Set financial limits and stick to them.

With deals bombarding your email and loved ones, kids, or family members suggesting new gift ideas of varying financial cost, one can easily become swept up in shopping and lose sight of real financial constraints. Although the intention to check off every item on someone’s Christmas list can be thoughtful and sweet, it can cause more damage to spend beyond your means. Beyond stressing about how you will pay off your credit card bill, you may also build resentment towards that person for asking so much of you, even if he or she did not expect you to purchase everything on the list.
Whether your financial situation has hit a new constraint this year or is as usual, it is okay to talk to your family and friends about realistic expectations. While our minds can run away with nightmare thoughts of a worst-case-scenario where people find us stingy and grumpy for not supplying enough wonderful gifts, that is almost never the case. You will likely find your family understanding and supportive of your goal to stay within your financial means, and they can tailor their gift ideas to help you.

    • Know that it is okay to say no.

The time between Thanksgiving and the start of the New Year is full of obligations to shop and attend events with family, friends, or work colleagues, and before you know it you may have booked away every moment of free time. This is a predictable way to feel crabby and even resentful towards those encouraging you to commit to more and more engagements. Remember that it is okay to say no for the sake of minimizing your stress and balancing your personal and social needs.

    • Establish boundaries with family.

We recently shared an article about conversational boundaries you can set with your family to minimize opportunities for conflict. As stated in that article, even the best of intentions and communication about your preferred boundaries does not guarantee that everyone will respect your wishes. Consider limiting time with certain family members that are less respectful of your boundaries. For example, stay at a hotel instead of the guest room so you know that you have an escape from contentious moments if you need one.

    • Prioritize time for self-care.

Beyond being the most wonderful, the holidays are also known as being one of the busiest times of year. Underlying the previous suggestions for minimizing stress this holiday season is the need to prioritize self-care. You can do this by avoiding over-spending, limiting family time, and knowing when to say no, but it is also important to actively supply opportunities for relieving stress.
Meditate, go for a walk, take a warm bath, and remember to get a gift for yourself this year, too. Treat yourself to an appointment with a therapist, if you can afford it, who can help teach you healthy stress management skills and offer guidance for establishing healthy boundaries this season and beyond.