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Holiday Season, no Stress Required

No matter how often it happens, there is always an element of head shaking and bewilderment in how it happens so quickly. The 'it' being referred to is, of course, the arrival of the 'Holiday Season.' While most of us enjoy this time of year to varying extents, many also experience a significant increase in stress levels during the upcoming month. This bit of news may come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time shopping for Black Friday sales and witnessed human behavior at its worst, but the American Psychological Society published an interesting paper this week on the specifics of holiday stress. Their survey was conducted in November and included 2,061 adults; the polling focused on determining the particulars and extent of the respondent's stress.  


You can read the findings here Even a joyous holiday season can cause stress for most Americans (, but the main headline is that 41% of the surveyed group, a snapshot representation of the typical American, reports increased stress during the holidays. Some main reasons for the extra stress are holiday shopping budgets, too much to do, dealing with relatives, and overindulging in food and drinks.


Let's pause here for a second and consider what that feeling of stress is. First things first, stress isn't a bad thing. It's a natural reaction and serves as an alert system for impending threats or danger. When we sense something unusual occurring, our body kicks into high gear by sharpening our senses and preparing us for action. Most of the time, thankfully, these stressors are not related to physical danger; more likely, they're connected to current or upcoming challenges involving everyday things like work, money, life, school, and family. In addition, the stress we feel frequently stems from concerns about our loved ones or even picking up on the anxious energy radiating off people in our lives! (Secondhand stress) All those triggers cause our body to have the same physiological reaction that our ancient ancestors experienced in much more dangerous life-or-death situations while hunting for food and defending their caves. A key difference now is the amount of chronic stress often experienced. Put simply, the stress we experience during a challenging moment is normal and healthy; it's our body running its hardwired defensive program of 'fight or flight' (like fighting off a sabretooth tiger trying to get into the cave). Stress coming at us continuously from multiple directions for extended periods is considered the chronic sort and is detrimental to our health in many ways. The chemical cocktail our body releases to bring us to the elevated 'high alert' state in a stressful event causes all sorts of wear and tear on us with prolonged exposure.


Perhaps most important on the topic of stress is that we can reduce and manage it. I wrote about some techniques in the 'EQ: The Swiss Army Knife of Life' series last year, and if you'd like to check it out, I suggest reading Part Three on Self-Management. For the sake of staying focused on reducing holiday stress, below is a short list of suggestions to help with the 'chart toppers' of what causes the highest anxiety for most people:


Christmas shopping budget


To paraphrase Madonna, we are living in a material world. That's nothing new, except that social media now bombards us with the content of curated and manufactured scenarios we are comparing and often trying to live up to. This dials up the pressure on getting perfect gifts that are often beyond our budget comfort zone. Thankfully, in addition to the drip feed of consumerism content found on most media platforms, there seems to be an uptick in the 'back to basics' gift-giving trend, specifically, 'from the heart' gifts that rely more on creativity and personalization than price tags. Have a particular skill? Give coaching vouchers to someone with the promise to teach them. Have a great idea for a walking tour? Your gift is being a guide on that walk for the recipient at a time of their choosing. (Notice that both gifts involve an actual experience rather than 'a thing' and the gift of spending extra time together). Have a favorite old photo and a story you can write in a letter to go with it? That's the perfect package deal present that the recipient will cherish forever. Also, check out this link for a long list of DIY ideas that will leave you and the gift receiver feeling great without causing debt into 2024: 116 Easy Homemade Christmas Gift Ideas on a Budget 2023 (


Too Much to Do


Calendars tend to fill up quickly, especially if we need to improve at saying "Sorry, but I have to pass on that" to requests for our time. Here's a suggestion: before you RSVP with a 'yes' to an event or agree to a request that will further fill your schedule, ask yourself this question: "If this were happening tomorrow, would I still want to do it, or would I be trying to figure out a way to cancel?" If the answer is a 'cancel' in that mental exercise, it will probably be the same feeling when the actual event arrives, so do your future self a favor and decline it now. A second tip is to block out time on your calendar each week as some personal downtime where you can catch your breath. You can use those protected times for however you want to relax, but it will help reduce the feelings of being overwhelmed by the holiday schedule rush when you can see some ‘safe zones’ built in each week.


Overindulging in food/drinks


For anyone trying to maintain a healthy diet, exercise, and moderation program all year, December is often when routines go out the window and the health train derails. Unfortunately, this is a double whammy of negative consequences. First, we feel physically worse for wear after weeks of too many big meals and free-flowing drinks. This feeling is followed closely by the guilt of not living up to the higher standards of dietary discipline we were doing our best to stick with for the last eleven months. 


FOPO (fear of other people's opinions) is a significant factor in this routine. We seek to avoid explaining why we are not piling up the plate, trying all the desserts, or having that third (or a much higher number!) drink. If you find that this social pressure is something you can relate to leading as having led to trouble in past years, a simple solution awaits in the form of having an answer ready for the inevitable questions our well-intentioned but persistent friends may corner us with. "December Resolutions" is the term you want to remember. Factoring in the well-known statistic that the overwhelming percentage of New Year's resolutions fail, the data is conclusive that an effective way to increase success is to change the context to a slightly earlier start date, specifically December 1st. Not only will people have a hard time trying to talk you out of that commitment, but you may also find some new people looking to join you in your December Resolutions movement.


Here's wishing you a happy, safe, and stress-free (or at least stress-reduced) holiday season!



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