It’s easy to let the holidays get to you. The pressure to find the perfect gift, traveling during the busiest time of the year, and family get-togethers that involve dealing with that relative you just don’t want to be around, all adds up. You may not realize how much holiday stress weighs on you. To help you weather the season as healthfully and happily as possible, here are ten signs that the stress is getting to you — and what to do about it.
1. Ambivalence about the holidays
If you used to look forward to the holidays and find that, this year, you just can’t seem to engage, you might be experiencing holiday stress. Take a step back and give yourself some space. Practice some self-care and certainly don’t feel bad if you need to stay home from a holiday party now and then.
2. Frequent headaches or jaw pain
Tension builds in the body without us realizing it. Often that tension crawls all the way up the spine to give you a headache or jaw pain. Bruxism, a condition in which a person grinds or clenches their teeth, is a sign of anxiety. So too are tension headaches. Try some yoga poses, like child’s pose, downward-facing dog and legs up the wall to help combat that tension.
3. Insomnia or nightmares
Changes in your sleep patterns could indicate that you’re more stressed than usual. Whether you have a hard time getting to sleep, staying asleep or you’ve got nightmares, sleep can be hard to come by during the holidays. Disconnect from your electronic devices an hour or so before bed and try not to drink anything with caffeine in the evening. You might find lavender oil, a hot bath or your favorite herbal tea can help you unwind and fall asleep easier.
4. Feelings of loneliness
It’s common to feel lonely during the holidays, especially as it seems everyone has the perfect relationship, kids, family, etc. every time you open Instagram. Resist the urge to compare your life with those highlights and instead focus on the good things in your life. Take this time to reach out to friends and family members that support you and know that, like everything, the holiday season will pass.
5. Lacking punctuality
Some of us are late all the time. If you’re regularly a punctual person and you find you’re dragging your feet to get out the door, it might be a sign you’re stressed. Set your alarm a little earlier than you normally would, to give yourself more time to get ready for the day. Don’t overschedule yourself either. It’s okay to say no, even during the holiday season.
6. Nervous tapping or fidgeting
Pacing, nervous tapping, fidgeting with anything you can get your hands on, or just generally being unable to sit still are all signs of anxiety and stress. This nervous movement can also contribute to insomnia. Try a short breathing exercise or meditation to help settle your mind. You might find that going for a walk or a run outside will help with the sense of restlessness as well.
7. Unexpected acne
You probably know by now what causes your acne. It might be eating junk food, consuming dairy, a particular makeup brand or pretty standard hormone fluctuations throughout the month. If pimples start popping up out of nowhere, seemingly for no reason, it could be due to stress. Take extra care of your skin during times of high stress and try not to pick at those blemishes.
8. Craving for sweets
We’re not talking about looking forward to your aunt’s chocolate pie, but an overwhelming craving for sweets. Our bodies crave carbohydrates and sugar when we’re stressed. Instead of indulging in a ton of chocolate or sugar, try eating fresh fruits or a handful of nuts. They’ll help curb your cravings while you settle your stress in another way.
9. Stomach aches
We feel much of our stress in the gut — it’s actually been called the second brain — so it’s no wonder that the holidays can increase stomach and intestinal problems. Honor your body by resisting the urge to indulge in foods you know are bad for you. For instance, if you’re gluten intolerant, recognize that just one cookie actually could mess things up for your gut. Fortify your digestive tract during this stressful time with probiotic foods like kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso and kombucha.
Being a perfectionist is a sign that you’re trying to control everything in your life. It’s a sure sign of stress. Feelings of unworthiness, or of not being “good enough,” might trigger perfectionism. Sometimes our families can be the biggest precursor of this mindset. When you’re tempted to be hard on yourself, stop and notice something you’re already really good at doing or being. Focus on your positive qualities instead of worrying about your shortcomings.
Here are a few ways to combat holiday stress:
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine
Alcohol is a stimulant in small quantities and a depressant in larger amounts. If you’re anxious, it can exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety, and if you’re feeling low, it can make you feel worse. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants and naturally make even the calmest people feel jittery. Stay away from these substances as much as possible when you’re stressed.
Get some exercise
Not only will working out give your body a boost of endorphins, but it will also help you combat the tendency to pack on the pounds during the holidays. To reap the benefits that exercise gives, get at least 30 minutes of exercise three to five times a week. If you can manage more, you’ll probably feel even better.
Download a free meditation app and take some time out for yourself during this stressful time of year. Guided meditation is very easy, even for beginners. Take time to notice the good things in your life. When you’re out for a walk, keep your phone in your pocket and observe nature in all its wintery glory.
Talk to someone
Even if you don’t have a counselor or therapist, chatting with a trusted friend can help you manage your stress. You can also take advantage of several different online therapy sites or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s available 24 hours a day if you need it.
Start a gratitude journal
Focussing on the negative things in our lives is natural. Our brains are built to do so, but few things combat this natural tendency like intentional gratitude. Start a gratitude journal by writing down five or more things each day for which you are thankful. Keep it with you and flip through the pages when you need a pick-me-up.
Do you have any other recommendations for dealing with holiday stress?
— Megan Winkler