Holiday Stress: Stop It Before It Starts

Why do we get so stressed during the holidays? More than any other time of the year, the holidays bring on a lot demands on our time and energy — parties, shopping, baking, cleaning, entertaining and spending time with people you may only see once a year (if that!).

  When stress is already at its peak, it's hard to stop and regroup. This season, try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

The American Heart Association suggests these basic tips for beating holiday stress:

  • Beware of party perils. Hit the salad bar before you hit the buffet. Eat at home before you go to parties, and keep salty and sweet indulgences to a minimum.
  • Stay active. Make time for walks, active chores and some exercise.
  • But not too active. Say no when you need a break. You don’t have to go to everything.
  • Go in with a plan. Set goals for yourself that will help you stay mentally and physically healthy. Schedule a walk each day, plan for a few minutes of daily meditation or set a limit on drinks. Check in each week to see if you’re on track.
  • Lay out a plan for the new year and beyond. Keep the to-do list going, make plans for adding some realistic, small changes for healthier behaviors.

Gift Giving: Keep It in Check
Make a list and a budget and stick to it. Really. Overspending on each person is the easiest way to break your budget. Your list and budget for each person can help prevent impulse buys.

  1. Consider alternatives. Donate to a charity in someone's name. Start a family gift exchange that limits the number of gifts and the amount spent on each one. Give homemade gifts — hot cocoa mix in a jar, healthy muffin mix in a bag, olive oil, homemade soap, a family recipe book or scented bath salts.
  2. Like an elf in your pocket. Your mobile phone or electronic device can help keep you organized. Find free apps that can help you keep track of who wants what, how many gifts you've gotten each person, how much you want to spend and even what gifts you’ve wrapped.

Host with the Most: Planning for the Main Event
Is it your turn to host the family holiday function? It’s a big job, but you don’t need to do everything. Why not make it a potluck so that everyone can contribute? Plan ahead to help take some of the stress out of hosting.

  1. One month before:
    1. Decide which dishes you will make and what else you’ll provide. For large holiday potlucks, the host typically makes the main course (turkey, ham, etc.) and the things that go with them, like a sauce or gravy.
    2. Leave room in your plan for guests to decide what they want to bring. If Aunt Mary is known for her gelatin mold, then let her bring it. Just make sure your guests let you know what they’re bringing so you don’t wind up with too much of one thing.
    3. Once you know what all you’ll provide, invite your guests and assign the remaining dishes. Let them know how many people will be attending so they know how much food to make.
    4. Avoid a kitchen jam by asking guests how much oven or stovetop time they’ll need once they arrive.
    5. Ask those who don’t like to cook to bring drinks or things like extra chairs or serving utensils.
  2. One or two days before: Make sure your tablecloths, silverware and napkins are guest ready. Set the table and get out the serving dishes you’ll need. Set up table decorations. Get out extra chairs.
  3. Day of: Keep the ice well stocked, relax and have a good time. Hosting a party doesn’t mean everything has to be perfect. Take time to celebrate with your friends and family.

Home for the Holidays: A Dustpan in your Stocking
There’s no place like home for holidays, but how can you keep it clean with so much going on? Try to get into the habit of doing a little cleaning each day. Sound like too much? Follow this plan .

  1. Pick it up. Leaving a room? Look for items that are out of place. Pick them up and put them back where they belong on your way out. Ask everyone else in your house to do the same.
  2. Clean machine. Instead of filling up the sink with pots and dishes, wash them or put them in the dishwasher as you prepare a meal.
  3. Make the Bed, Ned. Whatever your name is, a neatly made bed can make the room seem neater, and you’ll be less likely to let other things like clothes and papers pile up.
  4. Mountains of mail. Open, read and sort your mail as soon as you bring it inside. Throw away junk mail right away. Organize the remaining mail that needs correspondence, filing or payment.
  5. Fresh spills. Pasta on the cooktop or makeup on the bathroom counter — almost anything is faster and easier to remove if you get to it right away. Do a quick wipe down of your bathroom and kitchen sinks and counters each day.
  6. It’s a sweep. Sweep the kitchen floor each evening to keep tough-to-clean dirt and grime from building up.

Sources: Mayo Clinic, 2014; Martha Stewart Living; The American Heart Association, 2014

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