Holiday stress is a thing most of us try to keep out of our festivities. We like to think of the holidays as a season for relaxation, spending more time with friends and family, and reflecting on all the good the year gave us.
However, as we all know, the reality can look a little different—cue crying over a burnt turkey, in-laws with aggressive political views, and a bank statement that sends you into the new year feeling more holiday stress than holiday cheer. Or maybe your holidays are traditionally tough, and you’re not looking forward to this time of year. Maybe you feel more dive-under-the-covers than deck-the-halls. We’ve been there.
But, before you resign yourself to (another) late-night, feeling-the-pressure cookie fest, remember that keeping your stress in check is still a thing to think about during the holidays. In fact, it’s probably something you really need to focus on this time of year.
Not sure how to keep the wellness in your well-wishes this winter? We’re here to help.
How to Bust Holiday Stress and Boost Winter Wellness
Professor Javy Galindo, an expert on happiness and author of Authentic Happiness in Seven Emails and The Power of Thinking Differently, shares his best tip to help you beat the holiday blues.
Javy is happy to give you this gift this holiday season. (Would you expect anything less from a university professor who teaches the Psychology of Happiness? Because we wouldn’t.)
What makes us feel good, according to Javy
We are usually conditioned by past experience to partake in certain behaviors because they gave us an emotional boost in the past. For example, we have the experience of feeling good after eating cake, receiving a “Like” on Facebook, receiving an email with good news, having a sip of a good wine, purchasing a new piece of clothing or new tech device, etc. The brain releases dopamine through experiences like these to remind us that they made us feel good.”
The downfall of dopamine-fueled feelings
Because we can get a quick boost of positivity from these things rather easily, we can start to behave as if these are the best approaches to happiness. But happiness research shows this to not be true.
One can even just reflect on their own lives to see that authentic, deep, long-lasting happiness is much more than these short boosts of pleasure. As a result, most of us can become trapped on the hedonic treadmill, participating in a never-ending pursuit of happiness since we are continually chasing these sorts of emotional hits. We then neglect the rich experience of happiness that comes from strong emotional bonds, participating in meaningful activities, or in developing an appreciation for the peace and beauty inherent in the present moment.”
Take a moment to think about that. If we’re already on the hedonic treadmill when the holidays roll around, we may experience a “slower-burn” kind of happiness. Since we won’t be getting that “quick boost of positivity” most of us seek, we may be less inclined to continue with the meaningful events, actions, and connections that are truly important to our happiness and well-being long-term.
If we’re not paying attention, we accidentally surge our holiday stress instead of squash it. Now what?
How to get off the hedonic treadmill and beat holiday stress for real
Before you throw your mitten-covered hands into the air, keep reading.
There is so much we can do to wean ourselves off this dopamine addiction, but to begin, I recommend participating in some sort of intermittent fast.”
Say what? Does that mean we can’t have pie and delicious holiday meals? Not so much. It’s about reconnecting with true ways to wellness by kicking some of your dopamine-drivers to the curb. Here’s Javy:
This means giving yourself chunks of time where you abstain from something you know you do habitually. This could be a fast from Facebook (or your favorite social media app), from checking your email, from watching TV, from drinking alcohol, or from whatever behavior you know you rely on for your dopamine hit. The length of your fast depends on how addicted you are to the behavior. For many of my students, it seems like a big accomplishment to abstain from checking their Instagram account for an hour.”
We get it. This sounds tough. And you may be thinking that it’s really not necessary. But we want to challenge you to give it a try. Because getting rid of some of these superficial shots of happiness leaves room for the real stuff of the season. What is that real stuff, you ask? It’s being with people you love and actually enjoying it. It’s taking a second to appreciate this time of year—because of the chaos, not in spite of it.
So how do you do it?
The key is to start small so that you can see that you have the ability to do it, then increase your fasting times as [time] go by. Be compassionate with yourself if you fall off the wagon now and then, but do your best to get back on.”
Break the habit, shrink your holiday stress
Here’s Javy on the benefits of breaking the habit:
You may notice yourself developing a more calm and resilient mind. You may start to gain a greater appreciation for the life you currently have. And you may experience great gratification and sense of meaning from participating in such a practice since it comes from your conscious choice. A happy life is not something to be pursued. It is a choice we make for the type of life we want to have.”
Gaining an appreciation for the life you have and the season you’re here to celebrate is one powerful way to beat holiday stress. Suddenly your last-minute rush to the store is a way to see the holiday decorations, instead of impatiently waiting in another long line. It’s a perspective shift and one that requires breaking some habits to achieve.
So challenge yourself, through an intermittent fast, to take a break from those habits that give quick, meaningless boosts of pleasure. Instead, give yourself the gift of connection and meaningful activity this holiday season. Cheers to less holiday stress and making memories that matter.
Your turn: What’s your top tip for beating holiday stress? Share in the comments and stick around for more expert-backed ways to wellness.
Author: Sara Robinson
Sara Robinson has a Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology, though her passion is for the psychology of performance rather than an actual interest in sport. She’s a writer, content manager, project manager, and mom of 2 young boys, which means she’s constantly managing something or someone. If you’re a busy working mom, find out how to create more balance over on her blog, Get Mom Balanced.