Once the holiday season is upon us, glittery holiday decorations start going up, parties are planned, next year’s goals start to take root…oh, and stress levels ramp up to heights unknown. The happiest season of the year also happens to be one of the busiest, when to-do lists are loaded with project deadlines, performance reviews, holiday parties, family gatherings, and personal and professional demands that can leave you feeling more frantic than festive. This impacts more than just your holiday cheer: It can contribute to sleep problems, depression, and other health conditions, according to researchers. It can also can batter your immune system, making you more susceptible to cold and flu viruses. You can’t just erase the end of the year from your calendar (nor would you want to!). The key is to stay resilient—and in control. These five tried-and-true methods will help you manage the mounting stress, feel healthier, and even enjoy some of the year-end festivities.
1. Manage your mindset.
Often, we add to our stress by dramatizing even the smallest difficulties. Avoid this by keeping things in perspective, says Jay Winner, author of Relaxation on the Run. How to do it: Replace phrases like “This is horrible,” or “I’ll never finish,” with more realistic statements like “This is unfortunate,” or “It might take awhile, but I’ll get it done.” Then, look for ways to reframe the experience by finding humor or gratitude in the moment. Ask yourself how you’ll feel about your current situation in the future, be it five minutes, five months, or five years from now—and remember, Winner says, that some of the most difficult moments will also become the funny stories you tell in the years to come. “If it will be funny later,” he advises, “laugh now.”
2. Ease expectations.
It’s easy to feel pressured to perform—from bosses, relatives, friends, and especially yourself—but trying to please everyone makes it difficult to do anything well, says psychologist and life coach Melanie Greenberg, PhD, author of The Stress-Proof Brain. Instead, communicate your needs and set clear boundaries to avoid feeling over-scheduled. How to do it: Determine what you want and need to do to feel calm and successful—then, let go of the things that don’t support those goals. This will require dropping unnecessary feelings of guilt and perfectionism and making conscious choices to meet your personal needs, Greenberg says. That can be hard to do. But, in the long run, you’ll have more energy and focus to complete the activities you care most about—and that’s better for everyone.
3. Pump up the fun.
The must-dos of work deadlines and family responsibilities leave less time for fun. Yet, keeping up with activities and traditions that make you happy can actually lower your stress levels, Greenberg says. How to do it: Put fun on your calendar—literally. Maybe you want to make holiday cookies with the kids, coordinate a potluck lunch for coworkers, or hit the ski slopes one Saturday morning. Great! Now, schedule it before other activities get in the way and honor it as you would any other obligation. When you make room (and time) for the things you love, the end-of-the-year hustle and bustle will take on greater meaning.
4. Make a great wait.
Long lines add to tension this time of year, but they can also provide a respite, Winner says. Next time you’re sitting in traffic, standing in the checkout line, or waiting for feedback from the project leader at work, don’t get impatient—take it for what it is: a break. How to do it: Winner suggests you use the time waiting to make a gratitude list, look at a magazine, listen to favorite audiobook or podcast, practice mindfulness, or just take the time to catch your breath.
5. Schedule time for self-care.
Scores of studies indicate that self-care approaches like regular sleep, good nutrition, and daily exercise help manage stress, lower blood pressure, ward off depression, and improve moods. How to do it: Make time for self-care breaks during the transitions of your day. Take a long, slow morning shower. Use your lunch hour for a short walk, and pack lunches with healthy snacks full of nuts, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits to keep your energy and spirits up during the day. Schedule exercise and sleep as though you would a business meeting or medical appointment. Then, stick to those selfcare routines as a foundation for feeling calmer and less stressed all season long.