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How to reduce your holiday stress


2020 has been a hard year for almost everyone. Not only are we dealing with a global pandemic, but also the visible the effects of climate change and the elections have had an effect on people's anxiety. It's the uncertainty we are dealing with.


Worry is a normal, natural response to difficult or uncertain situations. It can help motivate us to do constructive problem solving. However, when you start worrying too much, especially about things outside of your control, it can start to exhaust and upset you, lower your mood, or impact on your ability to function or concentrate on other things. As we head towards the end of a tumultuous year, we have another challenge ahead: the holidays.


For many, the holidays are a time to connect with loved ones and celebrate. But it can also be a time for stress, sadness, loneliness, disappointment, overworking, overeating, and overspending. This year, the holidays are also impacted by COVID. This may mean greater financial pressure, particular for those who have lost their jobs. It also means family and friends cannot easily return from overseas, at a time when we would normally reunite with loved ones.


Fortunately, there are strategies we can use to manage or mitigate holiday stress.


Change your expectations


We are in a society that glamorises and idealises Christmas. This can create unrealistic expectations of how Christmas should go, often leading to disappointment and stress. Lowering expectations will reduce pressure and stress, and likely lead to greater enjoyment of the holidays. This may include lowering expectations around presents due to the financial pressure many are experiencing.


Be mindful of how you eat


Food affects how we feel, think, and behave. Fast food, sugary snacks and alcoholic beverages are all quick ways to emotionally soothe when stressed. In the short term they work to boost your mood and make you feel better. However, comfort eating with unhealthy food ultimately makes anxiety and depression worse. Numerous studies link sugar to depression, to anxiety, and to chemical imbalances in the brain that increase the risk of developing a mental health disorder. Alcohol is a depressant which gives you an initial boost, then reduces the chemicals you need for happiness the next day.

It’s common to overindulge over the holiday period, but families should aim to maintain healthful dietary habits during the holidays in order to avoid unintended weight gain, health and wellbeing impacts, and stress. Studies show that eating a healthy diet to benefit our gut is critical for mental health, and can positively intervene with anxiety, depression, and ADHD to reduce symptoms. Particularly beneficial, in general, is eating fish, nuts, beans, fruits, vegetables, probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, and limiting packaged or processed foods or foods high in sugar.



Make time for stress relief


In moments where you feel stressed, pause and take a moment to ground yourself. This can mean doing some deep breathing to centre yourself, or noticing your surroundings and what you can see, hear, smell, touch, and feel, or talking to someone. Pause and ask yourself, are my thoughts helping me to plan, or out of my control? If your thoughts are not helping you, look at ways to respond to them with compassion. Be kind to yourself.


Self-care and taking advantage of moments that uplift us is another way to mitigate our worry and be kind to ourselves during a difficult time. This could mean going on walks, listening to music, taking tea or coffee breaks, stretching, reading a book, journaling, doing yoga, baking, arts and crafts, taking a bath – the list goes on! You could try breathing exercises or guided meditations, there are many available online.


If you are unsure or feeling overwhelmed, you can also call the free 24/7 National ANXIETY HELPLINE (0800 ANXIETY; 0800 269 4389).


Trained volunteers offer support and advice on coping with worry and other distressing thoughts, feelings, or behaviours. They can take you through brief and effective anxiety management interventions and discuss helpful distraction and relaxation strategies.