For the majority of Americans, “the most wonderful time of the year” is also the most stressful season. In a recent survey, 90 percent of respondents said they stressed over at least one aspect of the holidays. For older adults in particular, this may be the year to slow down, take stock of the holidays, and sidestep the stressors. Doing so can pay off in immediate benefits for physical and mental health.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
For adults of all ages, holiday stress comes from overloading ourselves with activities and commitments. This includes the “musts” that we accumulate with the years—more and more gift shopping, food shopping, entertaining, decorating, and perhaps traveling or hosting family and friends.
Add to this the holiday parties and festivities of all types, which can mean loads of overindulging and upset sleep patterns, along with a break in exercise routine—adding up to physical stressors and a weakened immune system.
Change Is the Antidote
The main point about reducing holiday stress is to consider what you can—or should—change about how you traditionally work and play during the holiday season. Just because you’ve always done the same things year after year—such as, always sending Christmas cards to all your friends and family…always decorating your home inside and out, or always hosting a giant cocktail party.
Tradition can play a big part in our enjoyment of the holidays, but that doesn’t mean that all traditions must stay. Consider what tasks you can minimize, change or skip altogether that will relieve your stress and allow you to enjoy the holidays more.
The key is to look for changes you can make, as you’ll see in the list below:
• Just say no. If some of your holiday stress stems from too many activities, take a look at what you can skip. Consider the things you enjoy the most and start trimming those that don’t make the list. You might alternate years for certain friends’ parties, or pass along your hostessing duties to your daughter.
• Plan ahead. Find or create a calendar that shows mid-November through New Year’s, in whatever format suits you. Pencil in your newly trimmed holiday schedule—parties, concerts, and special events. Then go through and add in your tasks, such as shopping, holiday cards, and baking. Look for bottlenecks and re-schedule as necessary. For instance, if you typically spend a day holiday baking, can you schedule it when it isn’t sandwiched between holiday parties?
• Change the family (or friend) dynamic. If you dread seeing a difficult relative or friend every holiday season, take control and change the tradition. Consider shortening your time together by arriving later and/or leaving earlier, whether at a holiday dinner or a traditional week-long visit; avoid the annual party where you have run-ins, or simply bite the bullet and remove the person from your guest list.
• Acknowledge your sadness. Remember, it’s normal to feel lonely or depressed around the holidays. If you feel lonely, fight back by getting out of the house and being with other people. Try getting out and volunteering, or attend a holiday concert. Invite people over or connect with old friends by phone or email.
• Relax - Even if you are enjoying your busy schedule, be sure to pencil in some down time for yourself. Try practicing a daily brief meditation. Take a walk and get some sunshine, or read a good book. All of these things have been proven to relieve stress!
• And finally. . .delegate! Look for tasks that you can turn over to others. From hiring a teenager to wrap your gifts for you, to having your holiday dinner party catered, you’ll lighten your load! For example, residents at Splendido, an all-inclusive community in Tucson for those 55 and better, can ask the culinary team there to plan and cater any type of gathering. “We can cater any size gathering, and we have several venues to suit most needs,” says Splendido’s Executive Chef Jeremy Imes. “We do this throughout the year, but the holidays get a little busier. I think at this time of year especially, residents appreciate that staff handles all the setup and clean-up as well as the cooking—it leaves them free to enjoy their special event.”
The key to following these tips is being able to take an objective look at your personal holiday commitments and decide what changes might make your season a little brighter.