How to support your mental wellbeing and tips to reduce Christmas stress this festive season
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Not always! With entertaining, cooking, cleaning and the kids out of their usual routines, the holidays can pile extra stress on parents and make it hard to enjoy the festive spirit.
If you have overbearing in-laws, or guests that come with a list of demands, Christmas can come with a side order of anxiety, stress and pressure. And, if you’re not having the holidays you want because of illness, or missing a loved one you wish was there, it’s extra important to find ways to minimize the stress the holidays can bring.
In this article we explore how to recognise if you’re stressed, and what you can do to help manage your holiday stresses and some simple ideas to help keep the kids entertained and away from their screens during the festive period.
How do I know if I’m suffering from holiday stress?
What does being stressed mean to you? You might not always ‘feel’ stressed, but the physical and mental symptoms are there and they can manifest differently from person to person. According to the British mental health charity, Mind, you should look out for:
- Feeling irritated or wound up easily
- Racing thoughts
- Inability to concentrate or relax and enjoy yourself
- Loss of sense of humor
- Feeling overburdened and overwhelmed
Physically, stress can look like:
- Difficulty breathing and or panic attacks
- Stomach upsets and digestive issues
- Rashes and itchy skin
- Fatigue and sleep problems
Tips to manage holiday stress
When you’re in the middle of a stressful episode, life can be overwhelming and it can be hard to collect your thoughts and make a plan. If you know you have a busy and potentially stressful holiday season ahead of you, preparation is key. Here are some tips to help you manage holiday stress.
1. Be realistic
Movies and TV shows often depict Christmas as idyllic, with well-behaved children, the perfect amount of snow and a beautifully decorated home. The reality for many of us is bored kids, weather disruptions, demanding family and kitchen disasters. Perhaps you’ve suffered a loss this year, or miss someone who you would have liked to spend the holidays with isn’t around. It’s OK, acknowledge your feelings and understand that they’re valid, happy or sad.
2. Ask for help
If you have lots of family coming for the holidays and it feels like the list of chores and tasks you need to do is growing bigger by the minute, remember it’s OK to ask for help. Share the load with cooking, ask your guests to bring along a dish and get their help to clean up. Sharing out jobs and responsibilities between everyone can lighten the load. Don’t be scared to ask for help, hosts deserve to have fun too!
3. Remember that it’s ok to say no!
If you don’t want to host, or want to keep the holidays as an immediate family event, you can. Setting and keeping your boundaries firm are key to managing your Christmas stress.
4. Accept the differences
You can choose your friends, but not your family – so the saying goes. It’s a fact of life that our nearest and dearest can often push our buttons and stress us out more than anyone else. Accepting that people are different, acknowledging that they will do things that irritate you, and preparing yourself before they arrive is a good plan to keep the holiday stress levels low!
5. Get ahead of yourself
Planning ahead is key to keeping on top of all of those little jobs that stack up. If you can cook some things in advance, prepare activities for the children, and get the guests rooms done ahead of the arrival of your family, it all helps to manage holiday stress.
6. Keep a routine
Don’t neglect your healthy habits during the holidays. When there’s so much to do you might feel tempted to skip your daily exercise, eat on the go and press pause on the typical things you do to keep calm and manage anxieties – don’t! Try to stick to your usual routines as much as possible to keep yourself grounded and to manage your holiday stress.
7. Manage your vices
Christmas is a time to enjoy yourself, let your hair down and indulge, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, make sure you do so in moderation. Too much alcohol can make anxiety worse.
8. Have a break
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be tempted to power through to get everything done as quickly as possible. Take the time you need to have a break, even if it’s just for ten minutes. Sitting alone and doing breathing exercises can be a real help.
9. Stick to your budget
Christmas is expensive. Between presents and the costs associated with food and entertainment, there’s a lot to buy. Worrying about money can add a lot of pressure to an already stressful situation. Work out what you can afford to spend on the Christmas period, and stick to it!
10. Learn your triggers
If you have a feeling of dread about the Christmas season, take the time to work out why. What are the exact triggers that have you worried or feel anxious? Is there something you can do to minimize the impact that these triggers have on you? Knowing the things that can set you off, and learning how to manage them effectively ahead of time allows you to put your strategies into practice before things come to a head.
11. Speak to a professional
If you feel like you’re becoming very overwhelmed by the holidays and aren’t able to cope alone or with the support of your family and friends, speak with a professional. Trained counselors can help you to put things into perspective and create strategies that make dealing with holiday stress easier.
How can I manage holiday stress while not compromising on my screen time rules?
When children are out of their routine they tend to look for entertainment from you, and that can pile more stress on an already overwhelming time. If you want to manage the holiday stress from the kids, and are worried about being over reliant on screens to keep them busy, here are some suggestions that will help you stick to your routine.
1. Get them to help with the present wrapping
If your kids have realized the Santa ruse, why not ask them to get creative with the gift wrapping? Provide them an area in the house to get busy, fill their station with lots of exciting trinkets, paper and ribbons and let them get to it. It’ll take one job off your list too!
2. Get busy in the kitchen
All kids love spending quality time cooking with their loved ones. From Christmas cookies to simple snacks, budding chefs will love lending a helping hand and spending some quality time getting ready for the annual feast.
3. Spend time outside
Fresh air is wonderful for helping to ease stress, you can even add a challenge element to keep the competitive kids engaged. Ask them to scavenge for festive bits like pine cones and foliage to add to a Christmas table decoration (get them to create that too for added entertainment away from the screens!).
4. Family games night
There’s no better time than the holidays to bridge the generation gap and come together with festive games. One tip to encourage teenagers to be excited about playing is to let them choose the games you play.
5. Travel tips
If you’re the one that’s visiting family for the holidays, traveling with kids can be one of the most stressful things you can do at the busy Christmas time. If you want to minimize the screen time on the road, packing a busy bag full of new puzzles, games and toys is a good way to keep young children engaged.
6. Set a schedule
With children out of their routines and your list of holiday jobs growing, screens can feel like a useful tool to keep them busy. Set a schedule for the amount of screentime they’re allowed, and ensure that everyone sticks to it. To give you an added helping hand, let teens know that they need to complete their chores and help around the home before they’re allowed access to their devices too. And, as ever, make mealtimes and special moments throughout the holidays screen-free zones. Kidslox can help you to put the plan into action by setting time limits, and banning apps and sites that you don’t want your children to access.
Remember, the holidays look different for every family. Not everyone enjoys the Christmas period, and for some it can be really triggering. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. It’s OK to not be excited or to feel stressed. Recognising the effects of holiday and Christmas stress early, can help you to manage it before it becomes too overwhelming.