Sometimes the holiday spirit can be more stressful than jolly. Dr. Melissa Fenton, founder and president of Mind Body and Beyond Center in Jacksonville Beach, gives some tips and tricks to prevent or reduce holiday stress.

Holiday Shopping

 What is normally known as “retail therapy,” is actually the opposite during the holiday season. Christmas shopping is one of the most common factors when it comes to holiday stress.

“Shopping for ourselves is therapeutic,” Fenton said. “We’re experts on ourselves, but shopping for others creates a sense of self judgement with the search for the perfect gift.”

Instead of leaving all the shopping duties for the same day, Fenton advises preparing a list of gifts needed and shopping for them in mini shopping trips through the holidays.

“Go to malls at the least busy times and have a list to follow,” she added. “Shopping with a friend helps for support, too.”

For those who get anxious in large crowds and lines, gentle breathing goes a long away. That, and focusing on the positives of holiday shopping, like how happy friends and family will be with their gifts It’s easy to forget looking at the bright side while fighting over the last pair of size-8 sneakers that Aunt Carol is obsessing over, Fenton said.

Holiday Travel

To make holiday traveling less stressful—as with all traveling–it helps to plan and prepare as early and as much as possible. Planning and preparation are already stressful, so Fenton suggests sticking to one’s regular routine as much as possible.

“Practice self-care and nurture yourself even while you’re planning,” she said. “Have all your flight or travel information ready so you’ll already be in a calmer place and you’ll feel a difference in your mind and body.”

Traveling with children? Relaxation and meditation apps are the way to go.

“If you’ve got–or are dealing with–screaming kids or irritating travelers, apps are a great way to help breathe and relax,” Fenton said.

Holiday Host

 Whether you’re a holiday traveler or a holiday host, you can’t hide from the holiday hilarity. When hosting a holiday event, hosts tend to be under the impression that every aspect of the gathering needs to be perfectly planned and executed when that’s just not the case.

“We feel like we have to create this magical event and that our house and food have to be perfect,” Fenton said. “So, when we look on Pinterest for ideas, it makes us have unrealistic expectations and feel inferior.”

Focusing on one or two aspects of the event, rather than every single detail, not only alleviates stress, but will also help perfect those two aspects chosen. The key is to identify what type of gathering you are trying to create.

“What’s the goal you want to achieve, and what’s the minimum that you need,” Fenton said to ask yourself. “Do you want the priority to be food? Put focus on that. Love and connection are what the holidays are really about, and not everyone is going to notice all the time and effort anyway, so enjoy yourself.”

Holiday Family Reunion

This is the moment everyone’s been waiting for. Avoiding the crowd isn’t so hard when it’s outside the house, but when family’s over and in, it’s a different story.

Once again, the key to reducing unnecessary stress is to plan ahead. And when all else fails, plan an escape route, too.

“Plan and keep to a routine,” Fenton repeated. More often than not, there’s always at least one family member who is not so easy to get along with.

Fenton suggests limiting the time spent with that particular person and to focus more time on other family members who you feel comfortable with.

“Don’t assume this visit is going to be any different from the last,” she said. “Assuming it’s going to be different is only going to set you up for failure. You must create boundaries to make sure you feel good and supported. Have realistic expectations and keep to your routine. If you go to therapy sessions, work out, go to support groups or anything like that, keep doing it.”

Holiday Grieving

The holidays are a time to reunite with loved ones and unfortunately, that can’t always be possible. The holiday season is a constant trigger to anyone mourning the loss of a loved one and according to Fenton, it’s important to understand that all of it is normal and is part of the healing process.

“You’re going to feel the loneliness, sadness and pain,” she said. “Allow it. Don’t numb it with alcohol, food, or excess exercise. That just makes it worse.”

While old traditions may not be able to be recreated, new traditions can come to life.

“For example, let’s say your spouse passed away and you always cooked his favorite meal,” Fenton explained. “You can still make his favorite meal and share it with other loved ones to enjoy and create a new tradition.”

Fenton also suggests avoiding isolation, a common trait during mourning, as well as doing something kind for others.

“Grief makes us want to stay home and be miserable. Fight that as best as you can and reach out to those you trust,” she said. “Doing something kind for others also takes the focus off yourself and onto someone else. If we can volunteer or just perform one simple act of kindness, it can really lift our spirits.

Final Thoughts

Although each issue above is extremely different from the other, it’s important to notice the common factors they all have for reducing stress this season.

  1. Plan ahead
  2. Make a list
  3. Keep to routine
  4. Have a circle of trusted loved ones
  5. Be a nice, optimistic person

“I just want people to know that self-kindness and self-nurturance are a must, so be mindful of that and of where you are on your stress level,” Fenton said. “No one needs to be a martyr. We’ll be less effective to ourselves and others if we don’t take care of ourselves first. The holidays are about love and connection and we can’t forget about ourselves. Give it to yourself, too.”