Tips to reduce holiday stress as we “return to normal” this year

Holiday gatherings this year will mean a somewhat “return to normal,” so it’s best to be prepared mentally before meeting with friends and family. Here are some tips to help reduce holiday stress and create a more positive holiday experience from Jennifer Wegmann, Health and Wellness Studies lecturer at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

1. Step into the moment

Get off Holiday Auto-Pilot. When you get so entrenched in buying the perfect present, making the best dinner, or planning the perfect party, you miss out on the joys and gifts life sends your way. Being mindful requires you to be present and aware. It is impossible to be in the moment when you are focused on what is next or stuck in could have, would have, should have. Being mindful requires intentionality, so try an easy breathing exercise next time you find yourself mindlessly going through your day. Few things bring us into the moment like our breath. There are so many techniques out there, but something as simple as taking several deep breaths can be effective.

2. Adopt an attitude of gratitude

Gratitude is more than simply being thankful. It is an intention seeking of goodness in one’s life and an understanding that the source of goodness comes from both inside and outside of ourselves. Gratitude is a powerful positive emotion, and science shows when we practice gratitude, we experience numerous benefits. It improves sleep habits, cultivates happiness, reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and improves mental health. A great exercise we can all do is to take a little time in the next few weeks to reflect upon what and who we are truly and genuinely thankful for. Being grateful will help us see the holidays through a different lens. I encourage everyone to find a way to let people in your life know you are grateful for them and why.

3. Set healthy boundaries

Boundaries define who we are and what we find acceptable, as they are limits we set for ourselves and others. When our boundaries are too loose or too rigid, it can cause stress in our lives, particularly during the holiday season. If you find yourself saying yes to everything — party, dinners, presents — you can burn yourself out. On the flip side, if you find yourself saying no to everything during the holidays, you will miss out on making healthy connections, and relationships may suffer. So how can you find that sweet spot with boundaries? First, reflect on what your boundaries are. Surprisingly, many people can’t tell you their boundaries because they have never given themselves time to think about them. Once you acknowledge what your boundaries are, you need to communicate them assertively and directly. Remember, you can be assertive without forgoing compassion and kindness. If you do not communicate your boundaries, then you can’t expect people to respect them. You can anticipate that some people may be taken aback by your boundaries, but remember that you are not responsible for others’ actions. Do not fall into the trap of believing that setting a boundary is selfish. It’s an act of self-love, as it acknowledges your self-worth.