Stressed? 5 Ways To Avoid A Holiday-Fueled Freak Out

Photo: Courtesy of J.Crew

The holidays are good times — everything is sparkly and Mariah Carey is blasting wherever you go. But they also create the perfect storm of getting-to-the-airport, gift-giving, bring-on-the-crazy stress. The good news: Your body has your back. “The way the body responds to stress is the same during the holidays as during any other time of year,” says Ari Novick, Ph.D, a psychotherapist and founder of the AJ Novick Group for Anger and Stress Management, in Laguna Beach, California.

First, your heart rate and blood pressure go up a notch (or two) spurting out chemicals to amp your fight or flight response just in case things get out of hand; then, having this happen on a daily basis may lead to feelings of anxiety or depression and the next thing you know, you’re snapping at the Starbucks barista for no apparent reason. But, why do you need to chill out right now more than ever? “The holidays bring up additional stressors that may be don’t exist in our day-to-day lives,” says Novick. That means extra anxiety on top of your already-stressful life, which could cause a full-blown meltdown. Here’s how to nip those holiday WTH moments in the bud.

Holiday Stress: Packed Planes, Trains, And Automobiles (Plus Malls, Traffic, And Lines Out The Wazoo)
Think WWGD (what would grandma do?) As in: Leave more time than you think you could possibly need — for everything. It’s that simple. Because it’s the possibility of missing your flight or showing up to that ugly sweater shindig more than fashionably late that skyrockets stress — not the extra traveling time itself. “I tell my patients that utilizing good time management is the best gift they can give themselves,” says Novick. “If you leave yourself plenty of time to go anywhere or do anything — and remember that you aren’t the only one who has to get someplace, you’ll have a positive attitude and get everything done.” And then, if you’re late anyway? So, what. “You have to put in perspective — that it will work out and you’ll get there when you get there — there’s a start point and an end point, and as much as possible, be in the moment,” he says. 

Holiday Stress: There’s No Place Like Home (Well, Maybe…)

Chestnuts are roasting on an open fire, the aroma of fresh Folgers is wafting through the house, and everything is hunky-dory, right? Possibly. “For some people, going home elicits great feelings and memories but for others, going back to their childhood home and seeing a lot of family they don’t always see can be stressful,” says Novick, who notes that while visits to his office plummet as to-do lists increase, instances of emergency dial-in therapy sessions go way up. “During the holidays my therapy practice tends to be slow but then people start running around, or something painful or upsetting gets brought up, and they need time with me more than ever,” he says. Novick also says that a common way to self-medicate, when it comes to stress, is with booze. And, while it can calm you down a bit in the short term, excessive drinking can make you feel a whole lot worse over time. “If the drinking is a way to mask the stress you are feeling, then it will only end up exacerbating unhealthy stress behaviors and the situation itself,” he says.

Photo: Courtesy of Kate Spade

Holiday Stress: Spending Tons Of $$$ On Gifts
“Feeling financially strapped is really common during the holidays — because your spending spikes,” says Novick. “Plus, it can feel like a lot of pressure to have to meet the needs of everyone you are buying presents for.” And, because you are either online shopping or handing over plastic left and right, the money mayhem can hit particularly hard, when the bills arrive in January. Novick suggests taking the fear factor out of the equation by setting a monetary limit — that way, the amount due is not a surprise and you can handle it. And, if you factor it into your budget, you can pick something up for yourself, too. A little personal pampering is crucia aroundl this time of year.

Holiday Stress: Your Routine Is Non-Existent
Suddenly, your normal day-to-day is up in arms — you aren’t at the gym like you normally would be, or hitting up your go-to coffee joint at the same time, or you haven’t had any time to soak in the tub. And after a few weeks of this, utter lack of TLC can take a toll. Novick says if you typically go for a run every day, try to lace up those sneaks at least half as often as normal. And, if you feel like you’re eating nothing but fatty, non-nutritious foods, aim to have one healthy meal a day so you can binge later without panicking. “Often, by the end of the holiday season, people complain that they feel like a gluttonous slob because they’ve been out of their routine for so long,” says Novick. 

Also, if you can’t do the things that normally make you smile, try new ones. Buy that book you’ve been meaning to read, finally do the workout DVD you keep saying you’re going test out, or meet up with the friend that you haven’t seen in ages — those little things will help you feel a sense of accomplishment. 

Holiday Stress: Overhyping Festive Cheer
“Enter the holiday season with expectations that are reasonable and based on reality,” says Novick. Basically, if you always get in an argument with cousin Ted or your mom over X, Y, and Z, well, there’s a good chance it’ll happen again this year. So, instead of pretending it’s not a problem, be prepared. “The best way to manage your expectations is to look at history,” says Novick. “History often repeats itself and is the best predictor of the future — so you need to ask yourself what is reasonable to expect in a certain situation you’ve been in before.” Then ask yourself how you can better manage it this time. Et voilà. Instant trouble-shooting.

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