Welcome to the holiday season, which seems to start sometime around Thanksgiving and go on for what feels like forever. In reality, it’s just a handful of weeks when we think about holiday madness nonstop, but it can certainly take its toll on us all. It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, and yet, for many of us, it becomes somewhat un-happy when we focus too much on the stuff and not nearly enough on what the season is supposed to be about — family, togetherness, giving, joy, gratitude, and love. From the never-ending to-do list to the onslaught of holiday gatherings, work events, gift swaps, endless present wrapping and more, it’s easy to see how we’ve all lost sight of what the holidays are about and we’re instead overcome with anxiety.
If you’re feeling stressed this season, you’re not alone. In fact, research shows that the majority of us are battling some degree of holiday-induced stress this time of year. A 2015 study conducted by Heathline found that “62 percent of respondents described their stress level as “very or somewhat” elevated during the holidays, while only 10 percent reported no stress during the season.” The top culprits were the most obvious sources of stress: increased financial demands, navigating family dynamics, unhealthy habits, lack of time, and trying to maintain an exercise regimen.
Clearly, holiday stress is real, but you didn’t need us to tell you that. The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to combat that stress, and it doesn’t involve anything other than an open mind, a resetting of priorities, and a shift in focus. We’re not saying that stress caused by reunions with long lost relatives or judge-y grandmothers can be completely avoided. But giving back, helping others, and focusing on the traditions that truly matter to you will certainly help reduce stress and transform any festive anxiety into a more memorable seasonal experience. Happy holidays!
Share Experiences, Not Things
Sure, loads of gifts under the tree (or wherever you overdo it with presents) looks exciting, especially for kids. We are consumers after all. We buy things (and more things) and while that’s great for the economy, is it great for us? Are objects really the best way to induce joy? Do we need more stuff? Or would it be better to give the gift of an experience to someone you love? Experts argue that experiences are actually the best, most valuable way to create lasting happiness.
Research from San Francisco State University published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who spent money on experiences rather than material items were happier and felt the money was better spent. Treat a loved one to a new experience such as a class where they’ll learn a new skill, a concert or show, or an adventure you can take together. Don’t underestimate the thrill of exploration or the lasting joy of learning something new or hearing a favorite song performed live. It doesn’t need to be a grand getaway across the globe or a trip that will put a lasting dent in your wallet, but if it’s a bonding experience that you’ll remember it will be worth every cent.
Start a Crafting Tradition
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a gift, but you do want to give some physical object to a loved one, start a DIY gift tradition. Set up a crafting station where everyone makes something for someone else. It can be a picture frame, a painting, a bracelet, a piece of pottery… it doesn’t really matter what it is, as much as it matters that YOU made it. Plus the time spent together getting creative will be more memorable than the finished product, that we can promise.
Talk About the Act of Giving to Others
At a holiday dinner or family gathering, instead of talking about why you’re single or what you’re wearing or why you missed your great Aunt’s birthday, talk about something more positive and that will bring everyone joy. Discussing philanthropy and ways you can all give back not only inspires action, but also reminds everyone what the holidays are actually about — about being thankful for what you have and celebrating ways you can help spread that joy to others and give back to those in need. According to a study conducted by Fidelity Charitable, it’s important and beneficial to integrate philanthropic conversations and activities into family life. These kinds of conversations encourage healthy attitudes about helping others, and those who engage in conversations about philanthropy give more to charity and volunteer more in the future as well. Plus, giving together can be a bonding experience for family members of all generations.
Write Down What You’re Grateful For
When you feel the holidays are getting you down or you’re focusing too much of your headspace on the stress of giving, the endless list of gifts to buy or things to do, then take a moment to consider what you are grateful for. Write down what makes you happy, what you’re proud of, what you have accomplished and what you are thankful for in your life.
Give (Time or Money) to Charity
That feeling of happiness you experience after helping others or giving back isn’t just in your head — philanthropy can actually make you feel better. “Helping others helps you feel better too, by reminding you of what the holidays are really about,” says Elaine Martyn, a family philanthropy expert at Fidelity Charitable. Their 2018 study found that of all respondents, 48 percent of people who donated reported feeling happier overall. Add on top of that the potential health benefits of giving back, including reduced stress, less physical pain, improved sleep and more.
Pay Off a Stranger’s Layaway
If you’re feeling spontaneous and you want a way to give back, surprise shoppers who are picking up their holiday gifts and offer to pay off their layaway. Or if they were unable to purchase a specific high-ticket item and you have the means to afford it, offer to cover the cost of that gift item. It might seem like a small thing, but it could be a huge help to someone in need, and we promise you’ll all walk away feeling all of the holiday spirit and far less of the stress that was weighing you down.