If the fa-la-la-la has you more frazzled than festive, here are some tips to limit your stress

  • A certain level of holiday-related stress is inevitable, but it shouldn't ruin your holidays.
  • If this time of the year leaves you feeling more frazzled and anxious than excited, you're not alone. But it doesn't have to be this way.
  • To have your happiest holiday ever, experts recommend trying to limit your stress by making lists and prioritising self-care.

'Tis the season to be jolly. 

Or is it?

As many of us prepare to join our loved ones for the holidays in the upcoming weeks, it's easy to be swamped with stress created by the complexity of our relationships.

According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of Americans feel more stressed than usual during the holiday season. The case is no different for South Africans, with a past survey finding that 46% of people felt the pressure of hosting and accommodating family during this period.

READ MORE | Op-ed: Not feeling happy during the holiday? Why mental health awareness is important

So, if this time of the year usually leaves you more frazzled, anxious and feeling more 'argh!' than 'ahhh', here are some tips to have your calmest holiday and protect your mental health in the process, with a little help from the experts.

Don't let stress steal your holiday joy

Speaking to the Seattle Times, psychologist Pauline Wallin says while holidays emit feelings of joy and connection for many, some associate this time of the year with fatigue and irritability.

But it's not worth it to spend hours ruminating on the stress of the holidays before they actually begin. "Some people spend 20 hours worrying about what's going to happen for three hours," she says.

READ MORE | Budgeting tips for the festive season from an economics professor

"It's almost like you're rehearsing, going through scenarios and thinking about it and by the time you get there, you're already worked up." Though certain uncomfortable situations may come up, and it may help to prepare yourself for it, there's no point worrying beforehand as it will only prolong your feelings of stress, Wallin explained. 

Make a list

If things feel overwhelming, it may be best to write down a list of everything you want to accomplish every day during this period. Our minds love order and routine, so planning effectively in itself can reduce your stress and anxiety. 

As News24 previously suggested

Make lists for who and what gifts you need to get - that can also be easily carted with you on the journey. Make lists of all the doccies you need, and the fifty backups and copies you need to make of them for any emergencies, [and] make lists for what you need to pack from clothing to snacks to toiletries to gadgets - always be prepared and tick off your worries as you go.

READ MORE | 10 ways to take care of your mental health during the holiday

Make time for yourself this year

If people and activities are starting to cause you undue stress, take a step back and prioritise your mental health instead. As Dr David Topor, clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, states: "Remember] the 'me' in merry." He suggests the following self-care strategies for the holiday season:

  • Regularly schedule a time to engage in self-care activities, such as exercise, meditation, or a hobby you enjoy.
  • Take notes of the situations you're in when feeling stressed. For example, is it around certain people or engaging in specific activities? Monitor your stress level by writing this down in a journal at various times during the day. 
  • To help you cope with the above point, have a list of activities you can engage in to relax for a few minutes, such as taking a walk or watching a favourite TV show.
  • Take care of your physical health by ensuring you get adequate sleep and a nutritious diet. You can still enjoy the special foods and treats around the holidays, but balance this with healthy eating.

With these tips, we can't guarantee your holiday will be perfect, but it will be decidedly more pleasant.

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