For many people, the winter months mean fun parties, festive food, and lots of extra time with family.
However, the joys of the holiday season can also bring a lot of stress. If you are starting to feel anxious about the holidays, you are not alone. So how do you manage it? Here are 5 tips to survive and thrive during the holidays.
When we are anxious, we tend to take shallow or rapid breaths. This tells our sympathetic nervous system to be on alert, and activates our body so it’s ready to take action. This can make stress feel worse. However, we can use deep breathing to reverse this response and tap into our ability to relax.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Try a simple 4-8 breath: Inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 8. When you lengthen the exhalation, you allow your body to release tension. Just be sure to breathe through your belly (think of inflating it like a balloon) rather than your chest. Deep, slow belly breathing has a calming effect. It’s a quick and easy way to ease holiday stress.
Instead of saying yes to every single holiday activity, prioritize the ones that are most important to you – and schedule down time for yourself. Although you may be expected to go to some family activities, you can talk to your parents or caregivers about giving you some freedom too. This will enable you to truly enjoy the things that are important to you while giving you space to take time for yourself.
3. Move your body.
Exercise is a well-known mood booster, and can help when you’re feeling anxious or stressed out. Try to build a little exercise into every day. This can mean taking a walk with a friend, shooting a few hoops, or putting on your favorite song for a family dance party. Need a quick exercise fix? Do 20 jumping jacks and then run in place super-fast – this has the added benefit of feeling silly, so you may just laugh out loud!
For many people, the holidays are packed with family time. You may find yourself feeling disconnected from your friends. Plan ahead to see your friends over the winter break. If you can’t connect in person, schedule a video call instead. Taking breaks from family time to see your friends will keep you feeling connected and help you avoid feelings of family overload.
5. Practice gratitude.
Research suggests that people who practice gratitude tend to feel happier and more fulfilled. Each morning, pick 3 things that you are grateful for, and spend some time reflecting on how these things (or people) improve your life. Focusing on the things you are truly grateful for can be centering and uplifting.
The holidays can be the most wonderful and the most stressful time of year. And yes, it’s ok to feel both! Use these tips to stay grounded so that you can get the most out of your holiday time, your vacation time, and your family time.
Charissa Chamorro, MSW, is a clinical psychology intern at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center.