The most wonderful time of the year?

By: Vanessa Chris, Dec 14, 2009
stress, stress relief, stress management, holiday stress, christmas stress, meditation

How to keep stress under control during the holiday season

Remember when the holidays used to be fun? If not, you're not alone.

For many of us, that was a long, long time ago – before the responsibilities of adulthood brought a new meaning to "the most wonderful time of the year." At some point, the excitement of gift-unwrapping morphed into an anxiety over gift-wrapping, and the things we used to look forward to now generate an inexplicable feeling of dread.

According to Kimberly Moffit, a Toronto-based psychotherapist, the holidays are an extremely difficult time for many of her patients – in fact, December is her busiest month. And while many sources of this anxiety are easily diagnosed, others are a little more difficult to pinpoint.

"During the holidays, we see a lot of our families – and for many people, that brings up a lot of issues," she says. "The rest of the year is usually okay, because we tend to forget about the things that plague us. That's harder to do when we're spending a lot of time around extended family, siblings and parents."

Moffit adds that financial stress, and the pressure to make the season a memorable one for your children, also affects many people during the holidays. Especially during tough economic times like these, the pressure to buy everything on your child's wish list – and live up to a certain standard or expectation – can be a lot for people to handle. And while a whining child may appear to be merely a backdrop to other holiday stresses, Moffit says it also takes its toll. When you have to worry about your child becoming bored over his or her winter break, that can create a sense of tension and add to your anxiety.

To prevent your stress level from growing out of control, Moffit suggests taking a disciplined approach to relaxation.

"The holidays are supposed to be a time for you, too," she says. "Make sure you have time for yourself – whether it's through regular exercise or just sparing a moment to relax."

She adds that 15 minutes of meditation per day can do wonders for your state of mind. It can also prepare you for those inevitable stressful situations because it teaches you to master various controlled breathing techniques.

Creating a plan and a budget – rather than mindlessly racking up your credit cards – can also curb holiday stresses, Moffit says.

"The earlier you start shopping, and the more you think about it ahead of time, the better," she says. "You feel good when you stick to a budget, and getting a head start allows you to avoid those pesky line-ups and wait times."

How to meditate

  1. Find a quiet place to sit. The lower the chances of interruption, the better.
  2. Pay attention to your breathing. This is something we typically take for granted! Take notice of your body's normal breathing pattern.
  3. Slow it down. Take a long, slow breath in. Fill your lungs with air and let your body relax. Once your lungs are full of air, hold your breath for one or two seconds. Slowly exhale.
  4. Repeat five to 10 times.

Vanessa Chris is an award-winning journalist specializing in the realm of business writing. Since graduating from the University of Western Ontario’s Graduate Program in Journalism, her work has appeared in such publications as Canadian Real Estate magazine, various Post City and Metroland publications, The London Free Press and a bi-weekly lifestyle/relationship column in the Toronto Star.