'Tis the season to be merry-except sometimes, it's not.
While the entertainment industry would have us think the holidays are always full of good cheer, lots of laughs and warm feelings, the reality can, unfortunately, be otherwise.
Sometimes, all that frenzied consumerism, party-hopping and crazy schedules can bring out the worst in the people we love. Other times, a challenging life situation, such as a recent divorce, death in the family or financial struggles, are painfully magnified when everyone around you seems to be in such wonderfully high spirits.
No one wants to be the Grinch on Christmas. So, if you tend to feel stressed or down when the holidays roll around, here are eight tips to help you turn that frown into a genuine smile.
1. Watch the buck
Nothing kills the holiday cheer like a mountain of debt. Stick to a budget when doing your holiday shopping and only spend what you can actually afford. Be extra careful not to overspend as the holidays draw near, and you're experiencing pressure to finish your shopping in time. If you find yourself running low on funds, consider arranging a gift exchange, like a Secret Santa, or giving some homemade presents this year.
2. Give back
The holidays can sometimes leave us feeling down because of all that emphasis on the perfect gifts. Opening up a present is always a thrill, but giving to others creates lasting joy. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, one of the best ways to reduce stress is to give back to your community.
Beat the stress this season by sharing holiday cheer with those who are less fortunate. There are so many ways to spread joy! You can bring some toys to the children's ward at the local hospital to brighten up a sick child's holiday. Use your time off from work to volunteer at a soup kitchen. Dress up your family in their ugliest Christmas sweaters and holiday hats before visiting the closest nursing home to put a smile on the residents' faces.
When you give, you always give most to yourself.
3. Stick to a schedule
Part of the holiday experience is enjoying late nights and/or early mornings. Sometimes, though, all that lazing around and lack of quality sleep can make stress levels soar. There's no need to be a stickler for your regular routine on the holidays, but it's a good idea to keep some sort of schedule. Make sure you're getting enough shut-eye, and if a physical workout is part of your daily routine, don't neglect it over the holidays. You'll always feel better when you're taking care of your body. And, if you're mindful about your habits, you may not even have those extra pounds to work off in January!
4. Party smart
Cheers! Can I pour you another glass of ... soda?
If you like to party, you can end up getting sick over the holidays. All that heavy drinking and loading up on refined carbs can really do your body in. Do yourself a favor this year and watch what you imbibe. Enjoy a glass or two of your favorite alcoholic beverage, but try to keep the drinking to a minimum. Similarly, it's OK to break your diet over Christmas, but it's best not to go overboard. You don't need to feel bloated and sick to enjoy the holidays. Keep the stress out by treating your body well.
Are you hosting a crowd this Christmas? Guests can be great fun, but all the extra work can bring your stress levels through the roof. Here's the good news: You don't have to do it all! There's nothing wrong and there's everything right with asking for help. Don't feel bad about having your guests and family members pitch in with cooking and cleaning. They'll feel better, too, when they're sharing the workload. Plus, everything is easier when there are more hands on deck.
6. Take some "me" time
Whether you're a closet introvert or you just need some time alone each day, the nonstop partying and a house full of guests can get to you after a while. It's always a good idea to take care of yourself, and in the chaos of the holidays this need is often neglected. Consider running out to get yourself a manicure, taking a solitary half-hour walk or just locking yourself in your room after a long and loud day to savor the peace and quiet. You're not being an antisocial snob if you need your "me" time; you're just being human.
7. Give up the guilt
If you tend to overanalyze every interaction you have with family and friends, you can really beat yourself up over the holidays questioning everything you've said. Try to relax and to let go this season. So long as you're reasonably pleasant and agreeable, you can give yourself a break.
8. Lower your expectations
A common cause for holiday stress is unrealistic expectations. It's best not to build huge castles in the air by keeping your expectations to a minimum. There will probably be some minor, or even major, stressors this holiday, and not everything will turn out exactly as planned. All of that is OK. If you don't expect perfection, you won't be struggling with mountains of disappointment this holiday.
Beat the blues and put the cheer back into the holidays this year!
How do you beat the holiday stress? Share your best tips with us in the comments.