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6 things you can do right now to reduce stress during the holidays

Mirmont Outpatient Center - Broomall December 17, 2021 Behavioral Health

"We all have the best intentions during the holidays… we promise ourselves that we'll exercise, we'll eat well, we'll do all of our shopping before it's too late. But life can sometimes get in the way of these goals," says Philip Izzo, MD, a psychiatrist at Main Line Health. "Setting realistic expectations is important, and there are many strategies to help manage the stress of the holiday season."

Not sure how to get started? We offer some practical tips for reducing holiday stress.

1. Set aside time for yourself.

Starting in early November, your calendar will start to fill up quickly with holiday parties and events. Before it gets too crowded, block out one day each week to be commitment-free. Even if you can't commit a full day, choose one morning or evening each week that's just for you.

Use this time for self-care. That can mean:

  • Curling up with a good book
  • Taking a workout class
  • Watching a favorite movie or TV show
  • Even crossing some items off your to-do list

Whatever you decide to do, reserving a block of time just for yourself will guarantee that you're making you a priority this season.

2. Plan what you can.

It can be tempting to procrastinate holiday tasks until the very last minute, but one of the best ways to reduce stress and prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed with tasks is to plan ahead.

Start to plan your holiday meal menu in advance so you can gradually chip away at your shopping list.

"None of us can anticipate every single thing that this busy season will bring, but we can do little things each day that will help reduce stress later on," says Dr. Izzo.

Related: How to prevent holiday stress and depression

That might mean stocking up on a few extra gift cards when you're in line at the grocery store so that you have them on hand for last-minute gifts or starting to plan your holiday meal menu in advance so you can gradually chip away at your shopping list.

3. Sniff some lavender.

Seasonal scents like balsam fir, cinnamon or pumpkin are everywhere, but the key to reducing stress this season might be opting for something a little lighter. According to some research, lavender has a variety of health benefits that range from physical (lower blood pressure and heart rate) to mental and emotional (regulating brain waves and reducing anxiety.)

Try a diffuser in your workspace with lavender essential oils or carry some lavender hand lotion or scent sticks with you in your purse or car for when you need to de-stress. Explore the benefits of essential oils for anxiety.

4. Avoid heavy traffic days.

Traffic is stressful at any time of year, but the holiday season often means heavier traffic and the headaches that come with it. If you find that heavy traffic or crowds are stressful to you, try to avoid running errands or make unnecessary trips during busy times like weekends or the "Eve's"—nights before major holidays when malls or grocery stores will be especially crowded.

Instead, run errands on your lunch break or early in the morning on weekends, when roads and stores may be emptier. If navigating the grocery store during the holidays is too stressful, try services like Instacart that allow you to shop online. Busy times won't always be easy to avoid but you can try and lessen your time among crowds and traffic.

5. Spend some time outside.

The last thing on your mind during this time of year is probably spending extra time outside, especially since you have to be bundled up just to walk from your car to the front door. But spending time outdoors—even 15 minutes—can have big benefits for your mental health.

"Whenever possible and safe, I encourage people to spend time outdoors—especially during the winter. It helps to combat seasonal depression, but it can also help us feel more energized and focused and alleviate some of the stress that comes with the holiday season," says Izzo.

Whether it's taking the dog for a walk, going for a bike ride with friends or just doing some window shopping, try to find activities that require spending some time outdoors this season.

6. Be OK with not being OK… and asking for help.

If you start to feel especially withdrawn from friends or family or lose interest in activities that you previously enjoyed, make an appointment to talk to a therapist or other mental health professional. The holidays are a difficult time for a lot of people. It's okay to admit that this is a stressful or upsetting time of year for you. This might mean that you have to turn down invitations from friends or family, take a break from social media or spend some extra time alone.

Setting boundaries like these is healthy, but if you start to feel especially withdrawn from friends or family or lose interest in activities that you previously enjoyed, make an appointment to talk to a therapist or other mental health professional.

"Some stress and anxiety is normal during the holidays, but you should absolutely seek help if you start to notice you're experiencing major changes in mood, sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behavior, or self-esteem," says Dr. Izzo.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.