Zap the most negative challenges of the holiday season with 8 proven tools and tips for everything from winter blues to difficult family to financial stress.
The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year. Family, food, gifts and for most of us a much needed break from work.
They are also the worst time of the year.
12+ hours of dark, gray skies, soul-crushing travel, cold temps, gift-buying stress, and enough overeating to send your blood sugar into a roller coaster.
And then there is the family. You know, the people you’d break up with if you weren’t related to them.
Everyone is busy with something during the holidays
Maybe you get along well with your family. Or don’t struggle with holiday excess when it comes to food or booze. Maybe you have plenty of money in the bank and can afford to be as generous as you want.
But the fact is that everyone feels some kind of holiday pressure. The American Psychological Association found that positive holiday emotions like love were often accompanied by feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating and sadness. And that’s what a survey by the staffing firm Accountemps found 35% of respondents was more stressed over the holidays than they were during actual work.
This year instead reactsarm yourself with the tools you need to be proactive.
Don’t just get through the holidays… Own them
Each challenge contains a core of opportunity. Whether it is the family argument that is happening annual or the financial pressure you feel having to fill the stockings of 36 extended family members on your partner’s side, it’s important to remember: you can choose how you want to approach these holiday landmines.
We’ve rounded up eight of the most common holiday stressors with practical, actionable suggestions on how to tackle them.
Happy holidays and good luck.
Dealing with difficult family
Where would we be without family? Family supports, nurtures and defines us… but that doesn’t make it easy for them.
Unresolved childhood or family issues manifest during the holidays for the simple reason that all stakeholders—and the simmering emotions – is around for a few days. Instead of getting caught in a familiar cycle of escalation and recrimination, try something different this year: nonviolent communication.
Nonviolent communication is one approach to talk about difficult things (with difficult people!) which has been around for over 50 years. Created during the tumult of school integration in the 1960s, the goal of psychologist Marshall Rosenberg’s book is both simple and revolutionary: move past ego-driven, hurtful, and “violent” words to communicate more effectively.
If you’re not into reading, you can pick up the audiobook from your local library or from Audible with a 30-day free trial and listen to it on the flight.
Stay motivated through the Winter Blues
If you’re struggling with motivation during the holidays, it’s a great opportunity to seek inspiration from the latest science of productivity.
Charles Duhigg, famous for the power of habit, is back with a book on the neuroscience, psychology and social anthropology of productivity. Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of True Productivity tells a series of gripping stories about how teams and individuals have shaken up the routine to excel in their goals.
If you’re looking for something a little more clinical, Harvard Business Review’s groundbreaking collection of 10 articles on how to manage yourself is a winner.
What if you are worried about your mental health?
Busy holiday schedules, cold weather and soul-crushing darkness can cause a very normal dip in motivation – but for many, the impact is more profound.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is real and requires treatment. If you experience a severe depressive episode every winter, talk to your doctor and check out this post about the history, science, and treatment of SAD
If your winter blues linger longer than two weeks you may experience depression or anxiety that requires treatment, according to the American Psychological Association.
If you’re feeling bad but aren’t sure how seriously to take ityou can always call National Alliance on Mental Health hotline to receive free, confidential counseling. Just call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
Holiday food is great. Holiday overeating … less so. Humans are hardwired to seek out calorie– dense food like fatty ham, buttery mashed potatoes and figgy pudding (if you’re a 15th century duke).
Holiday overeating is such a tradition that for most people it isn’t even a problem; it is a point of pride. However, if you try to Lose Weightkeep it away or just live wellritualized overeating can be a big problem.
The key to combating holiday overeating is intention. Don’t just wing it—apple pie has a way of overcoming vague, undefined goals of “not having too much.” Once you’ve made up your mind how you want to eat, check out these two interesting resources for inspiration:
NPR’s Life Kit podcast talks about the latest science on dieting – and how it is more important to focus on behavioral goals than specific weight goals.
Fasting diets have swept the internet in the last year. Watch a speech by the most prominent – and science-based – advocate of fasting, Dr. Valtar Longo.
Managing holiday expectations
We are supposed to be happy for the holidays, but shopping, family needs, and the constant loop of terribly cheery holiday music all conspire to make this season overwhelming. In fact, a 2015 study from Healthline found that 50+% of respondents felt mild to major holiday-related stress.
Expectations are an important fuel for that stress. In a season when it’s often hard to feel good, the pressure to be happy can become a source of anxiety in itself. If you’ve ever felt like your friends or family expect you to perform happy holidays, you know what we’re talking about.
If you struggle with holiday expectations, check out this post from meditation teacher (and former CEO of Esquire magazine) Phillip Moffitt. He identifies the reasons behind the “tyranny of expectations” and how to deal with it.
Financial pressure on vacation
Study after study has shown that the biggest source of holiday stress is financial. Simply put: people are worried about how they can afford gifts, big meals and trips to see family.
If you’re in the same boat, know this: you’re not alone. Here at Primer, we’ve spent a lot of time and many, many electrons helping people get their budgets under control,
If you need to keep track of your budget, check out our extensive budget advice.
If you are looking for personal finance hacks to make money by saving money, take a look at our money hacks section.
If you need to earn more money at work, our salary negotiation and career experts have you covered.
Drinks too much
All of the holiday stressors above can make people seek refuge in the bottom of a bottle.
If you’re worried about coping with a challenging holiday – and worried that you might lean too heavily on alcohol – check out this letter from a concerned Primer reader his drink … and what you can do about it.
How do you navigate the holidays? Let us know in the comments below!