Releasing Holiday Stress

It is that time of year again – the holidays.  One of the busiest times of the year, along with one of the most exciting times of the year, the holidays can often add on extra stress to our already busy lives.  It is fairly normal to experience one or a few of these holiday stressors – extra responsibilities, multiple planned activities, heavy schedules, extra and over spending, social pressure to feel “happy,” the focus on material things, family disappointments, and unfulfilled resolutions.

For instance, I planned on having Thanksgiving dinner at my house this year and inviting all of my family to join.  But then I found out that my daughter and her husband had already committed their Thanksgiving day to his side of the family.  This is a very common situation that many of us have to tend to that often will bring up stress.  One thing that I was able to do to help relieve the stress was to be self-compassionate towards myself, remembering that there was no need for me to be hard on myself if the plans were not exactly coming together as I had thought they would.  I also was able to do some of the following exercises that helped calm me down.

Managing and Releasing Holiday Stresses

These quick actions can reduce the severity, along with long term effects, of stress.

1. Deep Breathing – Sit up right to fill your lungs with oxygen and close your eyes.  Breathe in slowly through your nose while counting silently to three.  Feel your body expand with the intake of your breath and hold the air in for a second.  Then let the air out slowly through your nose while counting “four, five, six.”  Repeat two more times.  Find a quiet room to sneak away to for a few minutes to revitalize.  This is great quick way to reconnect with yourself while at a family event that may be triggering stress.  This can also be done, with eyes open, while driving in frustrating holiday mall traffic.

2. Muscle Relaxation – Many of us carry large amounts of stress in our muscles.  To release the tension, sit comfortably in a chair with your eyes closed while clinching your right fist as hard as you can, then relax it, letting your whole arm go limp.  Repeat the same process with your left arm.  Then, with your arms hanging relaxed at your sides, raise your eyebrows, crinkle your forehead and tense the muscles of your scalp.  Continue the process – relax, tense, relax – until your body feels lighter of the stress it was holding.  Continue to “relax, tense, relax” with your jaw and neck, eyes and nose, chest and stomach, shoulders, the muscles of your buttocks, then your thighs, calves, ankles, and toes.  When you finish with each part, you should feel calm and totally relaxed.  Sit quietly for a few minutes to absorb in the calmness, then open your eyes and carry on with your day.

3. Practicing Gratitude – We live in a world where we are always on the go, it is often difficult to remember to slow down for a moment and be thankful.  Luckily, the holidays help us remember to do so given that one of the holidays is dedicated to being thankful – Thanksgiving.  Coping with the extra stresses of the holidays is a matter of focus.  Instead of focusing on your stress or on creating big moments, practice gratitude by savoring all the little joys that come each day during the holiday season.  Some of the little joys may include the special food, people’s generous spirits, beautiful music and the festive decorations.

Above all, the holidays are meant to be a special time with friends and family.  If you find yourself experiencing stress of any kind, remember these tips and practice them to get back to your best self.


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