The most wonderful time of the year can become anything but: the pressure to find that perfect gift, financial stress and poor health habits all contribute to why the vast majority of people cite the holidays as a very stressful time. By drawing on great information available in the latest research, you can change your holiday outlook. Even better, you can begin to create habits that transform an entire lifetime. Here are some little changes that can make a big difference in managing holiday stress — a little "New Year's intention" you can begin before Christmas.
Expecting that picture-perfect holiday can lead to deep disappointment when reality doesn't line up. The holidays become an amplified expression of the struggles we face during the rest of the year; the desire to repair a fractured family relationship, a struggle for perfectionism or feeling responsible for others' happiness can all lead to unreasonable hopes. Instead, work with your holiday mindset and try to see others from a present-time lens. Back away from hot button conversations, and tap into your ability to emotionally roll with whatever challenge happens to show up.
It sounds so obvious: "just breathe." It's well established that taking deep breaths is the fast track to feeling relaxed and present, but how often do you fully expand your lungs, flushing out all those toxins, activating your relaxation response? Schedule in deep breathing several times per day, well before the holidays become chaotic, to minimize your stress response. How do you know when you've hit that therapeutic threshold? Aim for six to eight breathing cycles per minute, depending on what's comfortable for you.
Focus on experiences, not stuff
While the excitement of opening presents may lead to a surge in the feel-good neurochemical dopamine, research tells us that sharing in new experiences bolsters real happiness long term. The suggestion is that while we can easily tire of objects, memories become internalized, and are a resource we draw on again and again.
The more time we spend on social media, the greater the likelihood of low mood or even depression, the latest research suggests. While it may be tempting to check and re-check responses to your posts about your holiday moments, chances are you may be inhibiting happiness. Instead, opt for black out periods throughout the day or putting technology aside altogether. It's a powerful way to clear the way for authentic connection, real time.
The endless gift buying and holiday errands are, for most people, downright stressful. Some researchers would suggest that spending your money on timesaving services might be the answer to becoming stress-free; in fact, participants who did were far happier. But in the age of technology, it isn't necessary to throw money at the problem. Instead, try purchasing gifts and groceries online, pull back on unreasonable expectations and challenge the perfectionism that can become your holiday mindset.
Lean into your routines and rituals
A review by the American Psychological Association reports that routines and rituals are powerful protective factors, providing a deeply rooted stability to family life. The benefits include stronger marital satisfaction, fewer health problems in children, and increased positive identity in adolescents', greater academic achievement, and better family relationships overall. Use the routines you've already established to maintain a sense of well-being throughout the holidays, and consider the kinds of rituals you'd like to put into practice for years to come.
The positive effects of exercise are undeniable; they're shown to be even more powerful than antidepressants when it comes to the long-term treatment of depression. Fitting in exercise over the holidays will not only counteract holiday blues. It can also provide you with a surge of endorphins, the body's natural pain reliever.
Pay attention to health symptoms
The latest research reveals a worrisome, if not unnerving, holiday fact: the risk of death on Christmas, Christmas Eve and New Years Day increases by a whopping 5 per cent. The good news is there are ways to protect you against this holiday effect.Pay attention to atypical health symptoms, know where the closest medical facility is and don't hesitate to forego holiday celebrating to put your health at the forefront.
Smile, for real
Smiling is shown to have both physiological and psychological benefits according to a study on it's effects. The simple act of putting a pencil in one's mouth is likely to bolster stress recovery and leave you feeling more positive. The study revealed that the pencil in mouth technique was beneficial regardless of whether the participant was asked to smile or not, but there were slight benefits to intentional smiling.
Last, but not least, count your blessings
We've all heard about it. Re-connecting to the core intention of the holidays happens seamlessly when you commit to a practice of gratitude. According to studies by the Grandfather of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, the simple practice of writing down three things that went well each day for one week, can lead to greater happiness for up to six months.
So, if you're looking to make this holiday the most meaningful yet, reflect on and generously share the true "gifts" you've been given. Extend the habit beyond the holidays, and it has the potential to change the emotional tone of your life. And that is, truly, a blessing.