Most seasonal carols and holiday Hallmark movies will have you believe the holidays aren't too stressful. "Comfort and joy," right? The trouble is that reality's often a little less A Christmas Prince and a little more Home Alone. While on the surface the holidays call for cozy fireplaces, pretty twinkling lights, and holiday cheer, there's the infiltration of family stress, financial woes, and the end-of-year hustle at work.
As positive psychiatrist Samantha Boardman points out, the absence of these factors can also lead to stress: "The holidays are especially hard on those who are alone or who have lost someone dear to them. Also, for many, the 'big questions' come to mind at this time of year, especially around New Year's—What am I doing with my life? What have I accomplished in the past year? What is it all for?—and they end up feeling badly and more stressed out as they reflect on the past year and their lives in general."
It's a crazy time for many, and the stress of trying to match up to the hopes of a perfect holiday gives way to even more pangs. True, an intrusive aunt and a workload that won't stop piling up are out of your control, but the in which way you react to them isn't. That's why we had Boardman lay out some simple practices for taking hold of your emotions, turning the dial down on the tension, and turning up the holly jolly. Take a look at her tips below.
Bundle up and brave the cold. If you're having an existential moment, being in nature will help reduce negative thoughts and mental fatigue. In addition to being good for individuals, a new study found that mothers and daughters who go for a walk in the park (versus a walk in the mall) get along better afterward.
Give Your Time Away
If you feel pressed for time, try giving it away. It may sound counterintuitive, but volunteering and doing things for others at this busy time of the year can expand your sense of time.
Cozy Up Near the Fireplace
Tap into the wisdom of our ancestors, who used to sit around the fire telling stories. After dark, a fire provided an opportunity for individuals to bond and to engage the imagination. These experiences by the fire "elicited understanding, trust, and sympathy"—things we could all use a little more of right now.
You don't need to be a superstar artist to reap the benefits of getting your hands dirty and creating something. Regardless of experience or talent, making art of any kind is a great stress reducer.
Do the Dishes
I am not kidding. Researchers at the University of Florida found that mindfully washing dishes can calm the mind. If a discussion is getting heated at a family dinner, excuse yourself and head for the sink!
Don't Sleep In
As tempting as it is to lounge in bed and watch back-to-back episodes of your favorite television show on a day off, override it. You will feel far more restored if you get up and do something, anything. Make plans with a friend, visit a museum, or volunteer at a soup kitchen—all energy-enhancing activities.
It's not superficial. Studies show that putting on formal clothes can makes us feel strong and powerful. Yes, sometimes a dress is more than just a dress.
Up next, check out the breathing exercises to use in any stressful situation.