Health & Wellness

Wellness Wednesday: Thriving Through the Holidays – A Guide to Managing Stress

Posted on December 13th, 2023 By: By Scot Fleshman

The holidays bring to mind gatherings of friends and family, time together, festive cheer, good food, and, unfortunately, stress.

In fact, nearly nine in 10 (89%) U.S. adults say something causes them stress during the holiday season. Those stresses come from a variety of sources, including financial strain, rocky relationships, exhaustion and unmet expectations.

How can you maintain the joy of the season and thrive through the holidays with so many stressors at play?

Embrace imperfection

To be human is to be imperfect. We suggest embracing it, especially through the holidays. Focus on enjoying the moments you share with friends and family rather than on perfecting every little detail. You cannot control everything. In trying to do so, you will cause additional and unnecessary stress.

It’s OK to say ‘no’

Boundaries are a kindness to everyone. They can avoid potential conflict because the matter has been addressed beforehand. This season, it’s vital to clearly and kindly communicate boundaries so you can enjoy your time. These boundaries can be set with yourself and with others.

A stressed woman with her head in her hands

Stress can be eased by focusing on enjoying the moments you share with friends and family instead of worrying about perfecting every little detail.

For example, consider how much energy you are willing and able to spend attending holiday parties. Then, make a commitment to yourself that you will only say yes to ‘x’ number. Then, when you are invited to additional events that fall outside that agreed-upon number, you can kindly and clearly share that you appreciate the invitation, but your schedule is full. Remember to be honest, respectful and appreciative.

For more examples of healthy holiday boundary setting, you can check out this quick post from Psychology Today.

Set realistic expectations

Did you know that more than 1 in 4 parents (28%) feel they have unrealistic expectations of themselves during the holidays? Yet, many stresses can be avoided (or reduced) by having realistic expectations surrounding situations and people, especially during a time of changed routine.

Ask yourself: “Am I upholding traditions and catering to others’ wants because of expectations? How do I want this holiday season to play out? What is most important to me personally and our immediate family?” This can help you to determine what is important for your family and aligned with your values. Then you can clearly communicate expectations to others.

Ask for help

You do not have to do it all alone! There is decorating, shopping, gift-wrapping, party planning and food preparation to be accomplished and you only have so much energy and time. Divide up the responsibilities among family members or share party tasks among a group of people so no one person takes on the majority of the load.

Create and stick to a budget

According to a study cited by the American Psychological Association, “financial concerns were most often cited as a cause of stress during the holidays, with 58% of U.S. adults saying that spending too much or not having enough money to spend causes them stress. This was followed by finding the right gifts (40%) and the stress of missing family or loved ones during the holidays (38%).”

To negate the financial strain of the holiday season, determine an appropriate budget for you and your family ahead of time, stick to it and don’t compare your situation to someone else’s. Remember, you do not have to keep up with anyone else during the holidays when it comes to spending money.

Schedule self-care time

The holiday season creates a disruption of your normal routine. When combined with additional stressors, you will need to make sure you’re caring for your physical and mental well-being. Even though your schedule looks different, try to create a new routine during this time so your body can anticipate what to expect. Routines create predictability and predictability creates ease and less stress.

Within that new routine, be intentional in carving out time for healthy self-care activities. This can look like taking a walk alone (or with a friend), getting lost in a favorite hobby after the kids are asleep, picking up a book instead of scrolling on social media, ordering supper from a local restaurant during a weeknight or giving yourself the gift of a massage.

We want you to be able to soak in the joy of the festive season and embrace your time with family and friends. By following these practical stress-managing tips, we know that you can have a successful and less stressful holiday season. Happy Holidays from the entire family at Gig Harbor Primary Care!

Scot Fleshman

The Wellness Wednesday column is written by Scot Fleshman, an advanced registered nurse practitioner and board-certified family nurse practitioner. Fleshman and his wife, Jessica Hopkins, own Gig Harbor Primary Care.