​​Navigating the Holiday Hustle: 5 Simple Ways to Beat Stress and Savor the Festive Season

by Dr. Sue Varma

I often find myself witnessing the intricate dance between holiday cheer and stress that plays out in the lives of my friends, my family, my clients…and maybe even myself. The holiday season, while brimming with joy and celebration, can also cast a shadow on our mental well-being. Between baking cookies, wrapping gifts, and juggling holiday parties, take the time to practice these five simple ways not just to survive but to truly enjoy this holiday season. 

Before we dive into the strategies, I want to acknowledge the layers of stress during winter. The holiday season looks different for everyone, and we all have different expectations. For some of us, the sheer overwhelm of the time, money and energy required to show up and be festive feels exhausting. For some, the holiday season is packed with family baggage, a reminder of lost loved ones, or a surefire way to open old wounds.

The holiday season isn’t just about festivities; it’s also a time when various stressors converge. From the challenges of flu and cold season to the lingering effects of COVID-19, financial strains, and the weight of lost loved ones, it’s crucial to recognize these sources to find targeted solutions and extend ourselves the compassion we deserve.

Prioritize Self-Care and Personal Well-Being

One of the foundational pillars of stress management during the holidays is prioritizing self-care. Amid the hustle and bustle, maintaining a healthy routine becomes paramount. Incorporate relaxation techniques, indulge in activities that bring you joy, and remember that it’s okay to take breaks and set boundaries. Saying no to excessive commitments is not a sign of weakness but a powerful act of self-preservation.

Don’t underestimate the impact of a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise, mindful eating habits, and adequate sleep can work wonders for your mental well-being. I often remind my patients that self-care is not selfish; it’s a necessary investment in your overall health.

Simplify Your Holiday To-Do List and Delegate Tasks

Holiday planning can quickly become overwhelming. Efficient organization involves distinguishing between essential and non-essential tasks. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from family or friends; it’s a sign of strength, not weakness. Delegating tasks not only lightens your load but also fosters a sense of connection and shared responsibility.

By simplifying your to-do list, you create space to enjoy the true essence of the season without being bogged down by unnecessary stressors.

Practice Mindfulness and Stay Present in the Moment

In the whirlwind of holiday activities, practicing mindfulness becomes a powerful tool for staying grounded. Take a moment to appreciate the small joys in everyday activities, whether it’s savoring a warm cup of cocoa or relishing the laughter of loved ones. Mindfulness is not about escaping reality but about fully experiencing and embracing it.

Addressing Winter Blues and Seasonal Depression

Winter ushers in not only frosty landscapes but also a spectrum of emotional challenges that many of us grapple with. It’s essential to recognize the nuances between the milder winter blues and the more serious winter depression, as understanding this distinction is crucial for effective coping.

Let’s dive into the numbers – 15-20% of individuals experience the more common and less debilitating winter blues, characterized by cravings for sweets, low energy, and a tendency to isolate. While it may cast a temporary shadow on your mood, the key differentiator is that it doesn’t significantly impact your day-to-day functioning.

On the other end of the spectrum, approximately 5% grapple with the more severe winter depression. This isn’t just a seasonal mood shift; it’s a legitimate clinical depression that coincides with the winter months. The hallmark here is the impact on daily functioning – work, school, and relationships take a noticeable hit.

Identifying the signs is crucial. Winter depression goes beyond the typical blues, manifesting as persistent low mood, very low energy levels, extended periods of sleep (sometimes 10-12 hours), and a notable increase in appetite, particularly for carbohydrates (which, let’s be honest, are not in short supply this time of year). These symptoms, combined with the usual markers of depression like feelings of worthlessness and guilt, rarely, but significantly, may include thoughts of suicide.

Recognizing the signs, seeking professional help when needed, and incorporating mood-boosting activities, such as using essential oils or maintaining a healthy snack routine, can contribute to emotional well-being during the colder months.

Having a Happy Holiday Season

As we navigate the holiday season, let’s prioritize self-compassion and adequate rest. Limiting alcohol intake and giving ourselves the grace to lower expectations can significantly reduce stress levels. Remember, celebrations don’t have to be perfect; they are symbolic gestures of connection and joy.

In conclusion, embrace the season with an open heart, and when the stressors pile up, reach out for support. By taking these simple steps, we can not only beat holiday stress but also create lasting memories filled with genuine joy and connection.