14 Tips for a Stress-free Holiday Season

A stress-free holiday? Now that’s the very definition of an oxymoron. The chaos that comes roaring into town on Santa’s sleigh includes things like work parties you don’t want to go to, shopping with an empty wallet and the typical holiday family stress that might make you long for a cabin in Antarctica.

Since you’re a social worker by profession, and caregiver by default, you’re accustomed to neglecting yourself and caring for others first. It’s certainly true that social workers often don’t follow their own wellness advice. But fear not, for there is hope. With these easy holiday stress tips, you’ll soon be looking forward to the season ahead.

1. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

There’s no shame in admitting you can’t do it all. At least, that’s what you tell everyone. When we admit that we need help, we do a couple of very powerful things: show that accepting support is a strength instead of a weakness and empower others by validating that what they have to offer is exactly what you need.

2. Know when to say “No.”

Mightily wielded by a 2-year-old at full steam, the word “no” reminds us that we actually do have some control over our lives. Its power is found in its fortitude against guilt, immovability in chaos and ability to gaze steadily into the saucer eyes of your beleaguered best friend. Let the word roll off your tongue until you achieve that giddy sense of freedom that indicates you’ve finally taken control of your schedule — and your life.

3. Take a break.

Even if your to-do list seems to stretch into next year, taking a break can make a big difference. A power nap is an effective way to refocus and refresh — allowing you to be more productive. Time alone in a quiet space gives your weary superpowers permission to rest.

4. Cuddle with a pet or a friend.

Receiving the affection you need will do you good. Researchers found that couples that were more affectionate for a month experienced a dip in stress hormones and blood pressure, as well as an increase in a hormone thought to calm and counter stress. Sometimes a good cuddle is just what we need.

5. Limit your alcohol consumption.

Excess alcohol limits productivity and is frequently the reason for an embarrassing moment at a work party, angry words in the heat of the moment and the sinking feeling of blue and red lights in the rear-view mirror. If you choose to drink, do so with care — and make sure the one holding the car keys isn’t also holding a drink.

6. Set a budget.

Money nears the top of the holiday stressor list. The tendency to go overboard or compete with others is sometimes too much. But you of all people know that the best gifts come from the heart, which is rarely tied to the wallet. Consider creating homemade gifts or investing in an experience with a loved one instead.

7. Take a staycation.

That trek through the woods to Grandma’s house gets more stressful every year. With holiday-crazed drivers filling the roads, it’s often a trip laced with dread. Holiday time with family is important, so be creative in ways to make it happen without raising your blood pressure. Limit travel stress by staying home if you can and creating a special celebration that everyone can enjoy.

8. Get enough exercise.

Yep, it’s cold out there. So bundle up and head out the door before you talk yourself out of it. Thirty minutes a day of some type of exercise is recommended for optimal health. Getting outside, inhaling some fresh air and working up a few beads of sweat can do wonders to boost your endorphins — and your mood.

9. Maintain your routine.

There’s comfort in a routine, which is why most people have one. The predictability of the day ahead is a solid foundation that you and your sanity have built over the years. Don’t throw it all away when the holiday season rolls around. When the unexpected strikes, you’ll be less unnerved if you still have your familiar routine to ground you.

10. Volunteer.

This one’s a no-brainer for the inherently helpful social worker. A recent study published in the Journal of Social Psychology shows that participants who performed one small act of kindness every day reported an increase in happiness after 10 days. “Helping others increases your own level of gratefulness and positive emotions,” says Sheela Raja, PhD, a psychologist and stress researcher at the University of Illinois.

11. Be grateful.

There’s power in thankfulness. Research indicates that showing gratitude increases your own happiness by as much as 25 percent. When we focus on being thankful for what we have, instead of worrying about what we don’t, we open ourselves to a whole new world of contentment.

12. Prevent illness.

Between the holiday precursor of flu season and all your daily contacts, there’s a higher chance you’ll get sick. So mind the basics that will help you fight off germs: wash your hands, take your vitamin C and get plenty of sleep.

13. Get enough sleep.

Speaking of sleep, how much is “enough”? According to Prevention Magazine, if you sleep 7-1/2 hours a night for three nights, that’ll take you through at least five complete cycles each night — allowing you to wallow in the luxury of stage-4 sleep. And that’s where you get the most nourishment and rest, boosting your immunity against those holiday germs.

14. Enjoy time with loved ones.

A University of Michigan study found that interacting with someone you’re emotionally close to increases progesterone levels, which decreases stress and anxiety.

If you follow these tips, you may experience a little caregiving withdrawal. When you’re itching for a fix, remember the words of Pema Chodron: “What you do for yourself, you’re doing for others, and what you do for others, you’re doing for yourself.”

So relax and enjoy your holiday season.