It’s the height of the holiday season and chances are, if you step into an elevator, walk into a department store, or turn on the radio right now, it wouldn’t be long before you hear Andy Williams crooning “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” It’s December, and it is a wonderful time of the year for most – even including those of us who have fibromyalgia.
But, it’s also the most stressful time of the year.
How does holiday stress affect you? Do you find yourself experiencing any of the following symptoms of stress?
- Feeling jittery and/or twitchy
- Feeling nervous
- Feeling anxious
- Tightness in the chest
- Heart racing or pounding
- Heart fluttering or skipping beats
- Cognitive confusion
- Poor memory or recall
- Poor ability to concentrate or focus
- Feeling nauseous
- Experiencing constipation, or diarrhea, or alternating both
- Realizing that you’re unconsciously holding your breath
- Taking short, shallow breaths
- Difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep
- Increased irritability and feeling short-fused
Of course, these symptoms are just the beginning. There are many more physical symptoms linked to stress, and it’s likely that many of them are the same fibromyalgia symptoms you’re already all too familiar with.
The question here is, “Do you notice an increase in your stress-related symptoms at this time of year?”
My “Aha” Moment – How I Was Increasing My Own Holiday Stress
I remember a particularly busy Christmas when my children were very young. I worked full-time, attended school part-time, and felt stretched in far too many opposing directions. I sewed, baked, shopped, wrapped, and prepared for Christmas morning as best I could.
Yet, I didn’t think my efforts were good enough.
I didn’t have the time to select the perfect stocking stuffers. I didn’t have the financial resources to purchase the gifts that my children had asked for. I felt frustrated, overwhelmed and just plain exhausted. I watched my children open their gifts with my own sense of defeat permeating my experience.
As I later fixed breakfast for the family, I watched my children bring their favorite toys into the kitchen and laugh with each other. I suddenly realized that the disappointment I’d felt over their gifts was my emotion — not theirs. They were enjoying themselves in the moment. Then and there, I decided to make the meal a bit more fun with music, adding some decorative touches to the table, and some impromptu dancing in the kitchen.
I learned a great lesson that day about taking a step back to see the big picture. Sometimes, we simply get too close to our stressful situations to see them as they really are.
7 Strategies to Reduce Your Holiday Stress
That’s why it’s important to consider the alternatives. Rather than focus on the unavoidable aspects of stress, here are a few suggestions to help you to lower your stress levels and put some fun back into your festivities.
- Self-Care – For many, when our to-do lists begin to multiply, the first items to get the boot are ones related to our personal health and well-being. Let me be clear: December is NOT the time to take shortcuts when it comes to self-care. Make the time to rest, get a massage, take a hot bath, practice deep breathing, pray and meditate, feed yourself well, get together with friends, read a good book, take a walk outdoors, and get to bed early. Setting self-care as a priority is non-negotiable.
- Synchronize – Organizing holiday schedules serves several purposes. First, it alleviates stress as it provides us with the feeling of control over our circumstances. Seeing things in print and in do-able chunks takes the stress out of the unknown. Also, when our errands, activities, and events are written down, it’s easier to group them for practicality purposes. We can synchronize our activities to maximize accomplishments and minimize effort.Getting an objective view of your errands may lead you to group them together in ways that reduce your time, money, and energy expenditures.
- Significance – Focus your efforts on activities that are truly important to you – not ones that you think should be important. Sometimes we use money as a measurement of value rather than time. Meaning, we value the money invested in a gift or an activity over the time or effort we’ve invested. Practical homemade gifts can be viewed as frugal, but they also represent the significance you place on the recipient.
- Shrink It – As our to-do list swells from December 1st and beyond, it becomes increasingly important to prioritize. For many of us, this means strategically reviewing our limited energy resources. It’s time to take a good hard look at your list and see if you can – right off the bat – eliminate a good percentage of what you have scheduled. Can you reduce your activities by 10% or 20%? Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves (not to mention everyone around us!), is to decline an invitation or two and just stay home. Which leads to the next stress strategy…
- Say It – Although we may anticipate hurt feelings, it’s important at this time of year to express our true feelings rather than put on an artificial front. If you don’t want to go to an event, simply decline — no explanation required. If you feel pressured to host an event and begin feeling overwhelmed, let others know. Maybe it’s time for someone else to step up and help, or perhaps even take the lead. Others aren’t given the opportunity to assist if you don’t express what you need.
- Socialize – Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to stay home and curl up with a great book. But it’s also important to recognize that familiar feeling of withdrawal. Pay attention to feelings of isolation, loneliness, sadness, frustration, or even resentment. The holidays can increase these isolating feelings – especially for those dealing with a chronic health challenge like fibromyalgia. Therefore, it’s important to move outside your comfort zone and socialize. Get out and sing, share, chat, support others and receive support in return. You can help at various community centers, churches, or donation sites. Or, you may choose to keep things simple. Call a friend and go for a walk, then follow up by enjoying each other’s company over a cup of tea.
- Sweets – This stress strategy may not seem as obvious as the others. ‘Tis the season to eat more sweets and treats, after all. But, besides affecting our waistlines, eating sugary foods can lead to all sorts of imbalances including increased pain, headaches/migraines, digestive disturbances, immune system damage, and more. Increased dietary sugar has an emotional impact, too. High blood sugar levels are connected with cognitive issues, depression, sadness, poor judgment, confusion, and more. So, do yourself a favor instead. Limit the treats and provide your body with limitless abundant nutrition.
There you have it. Seven strategies to help you get through the holidays with less stress! Can you review the previous strategies and select some you can implement now? Go ahead and look over the list and see which ones you’ll put into practice first.
Preventing stress in the first place is easier than dealing with
the physical and emotional damage resulting from stress.
Would you like a bonus stress strategy? I know this one may sound a bit weird, but I also know it works. I’ve done it myself.
Shrine – For many of us, our holiday happiness quotient relies on our ideas of the perfect day. We have memories or expectations of what we interpret as ideal. Why not create a display that reminds us of what we love about this time of year?
Most of us collect decorations and mementos that remind us of the joy of the holidays. It’s time to put this collection into one place. Sort through your Christmas boxes and pick out a select few things. Gather items that have sentimental meaning and/or represent your holiday ideal. Then, arrange these items where you’ll get to see them most. You get to decide how much or how little. Create a room, a corner, a mantel, or a shelf that’s just for you. Set up your holiday vignette all in one place to cherish and treasure.
As a suggestion, choose from your favorite books, toys, cards, ornaments, candles, snow globes, centerpieces, village miniatures, decorations, crafts your children made, etc. Put them in one place (you could even choose a private place such as your bedroom dresser or nightstand), and allow yourself the time to take it all in and enjoy the scene.
Here’s an example of a fun little arrangement I set up last year. I did it just for my own delight. It worked. I grinned every time I walked by. Fostering the feelings of joy, happiness, gratitude and wonder is the best stress management strategy of all.
This article, originally published on December 7, 2018, was updated on December 7, 2019.
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Sue Ingebretson is a chronic illness bestselling author and a much sought-after symptom-relief expert in the chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and autoimmune communities. She’s known for getting to the root of health challenges without quick-fix remedies that only mask symptoms. In her newest book, Get Back into Whack, discover why your past healing efforts may not have worked – and what does. Grab her one-page guide detailing the many healing benefits available for your own “back into whack” health journey.