When the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is Actually the Most Stressful

For some of us, the holidays can be the most wonderful and magical time of year. Getting cozy by the fire with loved ones, taking a moment to slow down from the busy summer and fall and just enjoy one another’s company, absolutely delicious food—what’s not to love, right?

For many of us, there’s nothing magical about the added stress and unmanageable levels of anxiety. From overextending yourself and saying “yes” to every social engagement, to being trapped in a room with your overbearing relatives who want to know when you’re going to finally settle down with someone or start having children, to missing a loved one who you can’t be with, to finding time to shop for gifts, to realizing how much all of those gifts are going to hurt your bank account—it can be overwhelming, to say the least.

After speaking with a lot of people, here are a few ways they address this chaotic time of year.

It’s okay to say no sometimes: You love your family, but the last few holidays were just too much! Just because ‘tis the season, doesn’t mean you have to jam-pack your schedule with family holiday cheer constantly. You still have other aspects of your life that need tending to! Set yourself limits—if you know being together that much is going to burn you out, plan a few amazing family outings instead of spending every waking moment together. Go out to a special dinner and see the Lincoln Park Zoolights one evening, and then use the next day to take care of everything else you have on your plate (like all of the laundry that’s been building up in the corner of your room—it’s literally become a mountain!) Later in the week, take the afternoon to go ice skating at the Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, and do something more low-key the rest of the day with the family (you know you’re dreaming of some hot cocoa!) Remember, you love your family, so make sure you take care of yourself so you can fully enjoy their company—choose quality over quantity!

Missing a loved one: Maybe your loved one is no longer with you, or maybe they’re across the country and can’t be with you during this time of year. Take a moment to think about the ways that person touched your life, and do something to celebrate them. Make some cookies from scratch, you know the kind used to make with your loved one when you were younger. Go on a walk to your favorite place you used to visit with them. If they’re far away, set up a skype date or a time to chat on the phone. Read a book that reminds you of them. It’s okay to miss them, so celebrate their memory.

Feeling lonely: Even surrounded by family, sometimes the holiday season makes us feel extremely isolated and lonely. Our society has painted a picture of how we’re “supposed” to experience the holidays, and when our more realistic version falls short, we can start to feel really crummy. You are definitely not the only person who is feeling this way (even your friend who is wearing the turkey sweater and hat and appears to have the best Thanksgiving might be feeling this way!) If you’re really feeling down, sometimes it feels good to help others. You can volunteer at a local non-profit, or perform a random act of kindness to a complete stranger. You can reach out to a friend who might also be feeling down right now, or finally get started on that long to-do list and feel accomplished by tackling some of it. You can start planning a trip for the new year, or tap into your creative side and make something. The sky’s the limit!

Exercise: More than ever, now is the time to exercise! Out of practice? Don’t wait until New Year’s to make a resolution—start letting those naturally occuring endorphins help you out now while you need it the most! You can do something from home (youtube has tons of free workout/yoga videos), go for a walk, or get a head start on a new gym membership before everyone else joins January 2nd (let’s be honest, nobody does anything on January 1st!)

Holiday Shopping: What started as a way to do something nice for the people you love has become out-of-control! Giving to someone you love can be so special, but nowadays there is so much pressure to give the “perfect” gift—as if your love and company alone aren’t enough! Holiday shopping is often stressful, but you can definitely make is more manageable.

  1. Plan ahead. Write down your list and ideas for each person before diving down the Black Friday/Cyber Monday rabbit hole (on a side note, maybe even consider shopping on Small Business Saturday to help out the little guys, and feel good while doing it!)

  2. Take a real look at your budget. Budgeting isn’t glamorous, but it may save you a world of stress! Plan your ideal amount for each person, and then your absolute max and stick to it—no gift is worth months of financial stress afterwards! Remember, advertisers are trying to tell you what you need—it’s likely not what you actually need!

  3. Get creative. Do a brain dump for gift ideas: write down anything that comes to mind for each person, and let the stream of consciousness lead you to something wonderful! Sometimes you’ll come up with the perfect idea that is way less expensive than a gift card!

  4. Don’t shop alone. If going to the store and browsing on the internet still leaves a knot in your stomach, go shopping with a friend and make a social outing of it! Take someone who you can have fun with and who might help lighten the mood a bit.

Still feeling overwhelmed?

Despite our best efforts, sometimes anxiety still controls our lives. Consider therapy as an option. New Year’s resolutions are coming—now is a great time to start taking care of your emotional health. I partner with women and help them process the challenges in their lives so they can start taking control of their anxiety, and thrive again. You can learn more about my approach here or call (312) 729-5258 today to schedule a free 15-minute consultation to see if we’re a good fit.

Sending lots of positive vibes to you all during this wonderful and stressful time of year!