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How to manage holiday stress

Holidays come with excitement, joy and lots of expectations. When those expectations go unmet, stress levels can rise. Here are some tips from Gundersen integrated primary care pediatric psychologist Allison Allmon Dixson, PhD, to help manage holiday stress for everyone in your family. Yourself included. 

Focus on what matters most 

Keep what’s most important to you and your family at the center of your holiday celebrations. You can do this through conversation and activities like creating a family statement identifying what the holidays mean to your family. Read it before and after attending holiday events such as school plays, decorating cookies, trimming the tree, and looking at holiday lights, etc. Include discussion about how the activity fits in with your holiday values.  

Set expectations 

Set realistic and developmentally appropriate expectations—for your kids and for yourself. If you’re decorating cookies, expect a mess. (How did frosting get way up there?) If you’re going to a party, try to leave while everyone is still in good spirits and not yet overtired or overwhelmed. Ten minutes of great cookie decorating is more fun than 12 minutes of great cookie decorating followed by 10 minutes of tears. Afterwards, celebrate the fun you had! It’s important to celebrate the small stuff. 

Maintain routines 

Even though it’s hard, try to maintain routines. This is especially important when it comes to sleeping and eating, since disrupting either of these can make stress worse. Set a timer to remind you about things like nap and snack times. As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. An alarm going off on your phone or watch can help you stick to your usual schedule as much as possible and avoid unintentionally creating extra stress. 

Practice gratitude 

Create opportunities for you and your family to practice gratitude. Research shows practicing gratitude regularly can help lower stress hormones in the body. While teaching your family, especially young kids, about gratitude can feel like a heavy lift, it doesn’t have to be tricky. Try these tips to help your kids learn about and express thankfulness. 

Prioritize self-care

Remember to take care of yourself. You will enjoy the holidays more and so will your kids if your stress levels are well-managed. Set yourself up for success now by reflecting on:

  • What are three things you can do to take care of yourself (e.g., doing regular physical activity, listening to music while you shower, reading before bed)? 

  • What are your signs of stress (e.g., eating later in the evening, staying up later, feeling irritable)?  

  • How will you recognize your signs of stress? Can you schedule routine check-ins and rate your stress level 0-10?  

  • What will you do if your stress level is more than a 5? What coping strategies can you use? What is one thing (holiday event or responsibility) you can delegate or not do? 

Looking for more ways to manage stress around the holidays? Check out these six holiday stress-busters

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