Whether it’s planning for holiday parties or hunting down gifts for friends and family members, stress is part of the holiday season as much as eggnog and mistletoe.
That’s why Katie Santana, a licensed clinical social worker and clinical therapist in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health and at the FIU Health Faculty Group Practice, spoke with students, faculty and staff on Dec. 12 about the causes of holiday stress and ways to alleviate it. The event was part of the FIU Health Care Network’s Lunch and Learn Lecture Series.
“Stress a lot of times occurs when we think about what’s going to happen: if this happens or that happens,” Santana says. “When we bring ourselves back to the moment we are able to let go of that and enjoy what’s right in front of us.”
Some of the main causes of the stress during the holidays include the high expectations we place on ourselves and others, our perceptions of what the holidays should be, a negative or toxic family dynamic, financial worries, time constraints, and (of course) shopping.
The following are some tips Santana gives for reducing holiday stress.
1. SHOP SMART
Shopping is a major cause of stress at this time of the year and it’s not hard to figure out why.
“The whole shopping experience comes with the traffic, the crowds and the inability to find a spot,” Santana says. “You have to anticipate them, accept them and make a plan or strategy to deal with them.”
Leave the house early, make a list of exactly who you will buy gifts for, set a spending limit and budget and stick to it. If possible, look online and see if you can save even more money on items that are on sale. Plan a Secret Santa or white elephant gift exchange within a group of friends. Being a smart shopper will reduce wasted time, keep you focused on your objectives and minimize stress.
2. SET BOUNDARIES
Let’s face it: many times we will find ourselves stuck spending time with that crazy uncle against our will. If you can’t avoid being under the same roof, try to limit the amount of time you spend with them. If there are certain topics that you know will lead to raised voices and harsh words, avoid those discussions altogether.
Bringing a close friend with you to family gatherings or more positive family members can ease some of the discomfort and awkwardness of dealing with difficult family members.
3. DON’T OVER-SCHEDULE
Sometimes we wish we could commit to every party our friends invited us to, but because time is limited chances are you can’t. It’s important to recognize what your schedule looks like and not to stretch yourself so thin that you end up exhausted and burned out.
There’s also handling the pressure to see every family member or go to every family outing. While time with family is important, setting boundaries as to how much time you can commit and communicating that clearly to family members is critical.
Learn to say “no” when you start to feel that your schedule is overloaded.
4. TAKE A TIMEOUT
It feels like everything moves faster as the holidays get closer, but it’s important to take some time for yourself and to reflect and meditate. Santana recommends reading a book, getting some exercise, watching a movie or an episode of your favorite television show and practicing some helpful breathing and meditation techniques.
“The best way to relieve stress is to slow down and take some time to yourself,” Santana says. “Then you’ll be able to look at things differently, problem solve better and do what you need to do.”
5. CREATE NEW TRADITIONS
Being away from home for the holidays is always difficult. If you find yourself separated from loved ones this year, use this time as an opportunity to create some new holiday traditions.
Gather up a few close friends or family members that may be in town and do something to celebrate the holidays. Find a place to volunteer at and bring some holiday cheer to those who are going through hard times. Use Skype or FaceTime to connect with family members and friends back home.
6. REMEMBER WHAT MATTERS
In the hustle and bustle of the most wonderful time of the year, we can easily forget what’s so “wonderful” about it. For some of us, this time of the year is the only time we get to spend with certain family members and friends we love. Reminding yourself – or establishing for the first time – what is really important to you keeps everything in perspective.
“We have to remember what matters most and let go of things that are out of our control,” Santana says. “Sometimes we just need to go with the flow.”
If you are struggling with holiday stress this year, contact FIU Student Health Services or use this stress management interactive workshop compiled by FIU Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS). You can also contact the FIU Health Faculty Group Practice in MMC at 305-348-DOCS and in Broward at 954-523-2727.