British Columbia

4 of the most stressful holiday scenarios, and how to make it through them

UBC psychology professor Nancy Sin says looking for the positive moments in stressful situations is the key to making it through the holidays.

UBC psychology professor Nancy Sin says looking for positive moments is key to navigating holidays

UBC researcher Nancy Shin is pictured outside of the Pacific Centre mall in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The most wonderful time of the year can also be the most stressful. Between gift-buying, party planning and travel plans, there are no shortage of commitments and stress-inducing tasks.

Nancy Sin is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia who specializes in turning those stressful moments into positive ones.

This season, she has been taking the Early Edition through the different stressful scenarios people find themselves in during the holidays and the best way to navigate through them.

Shopping chaos

If you've left your gift-buying late, you're not alone. The crowds at the mall will continue to grow bigger and bigger until Christmas Day. 

Sin says her research shows it's often who you're with in those situations that can turn the chaos into a bit of joy. 

"The kinds of experiences that people think are the most positive are social interactions. So if you're busy shopping, just take a moment, sit down with your buddy and have a cup of coffee."

UBC researcher Nancy Shin is pictured inside the Pacific Centre mall in Vancouver, British Columbia on December 5, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

She says when in doubt though, it's always reassuring to remember why you're in a shopping centre in the first place. 

"People shouldn't lose sight that we're so lucky if we're able to purchase gifts for our families because there are a lot of people that are not so fortunate."

Stuck in traffic

Traffic and commuting is already a source of major headaches in daily life. Adding extra commutes, bigger crowds and parking spot fights can make it all even more annoying. 

Sin says this is a situation where practising a bit of mindfulness can go a long way. 

"When you're stuck in traffic or really impatient and trying to find a parking spot, just stopping and taking a deep breathe...can inject a little bit of sanity into our hectic lives."

Holiday shoppers outside the Pacific Centre mall in Vancouver, British Columbia on December 5, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Sin's research focuses on how to find positive experiences out of typically stressful or anxious moments. She says being stuck on the road offers plenty of those opportunities. 

"When I'm on the bus or on the train, I enjoy people watching. I think of it as a simple pleasure to just watch all the hustle and bustle around me."

Full and empty schedules

The holiday season often means a full schedule. On top of the regular day-to-day commitments, there is a list full of events, parties, obligations and activities to check off. 

Sin says perspective is once again the key to making it through the emotional and physical labour aspects.

"Sometimes people can spend so much effort on trying to make sure that others are happy and enjoying themselves that we can lose sight of making sure that we enjoy these events ourselves."

On the flip side, a lack of social opportunities can also impact your mental health. 

"It can be difficult when you don't have enough of these events to go to or people to share the holidays with. Loneliness is a major cause of stress.

"It's important for people to connect with others or find things to enjoy, even if it's by yourself. Solitude can be a rewarding experience too."

Cabin fever

Hosting a party is no simple task, and one that can often bring on the stress. Sin says don't be too prideful if you're up to your neck with things to do. 

"It's important to enlist help from other people and asking others to bring something they want to share. "That also means loosening the reins a little bit if you are a controlling person."

The holidays often bring people together, but that's not always a good thing. Sometimes there are reasons why you don't see certain family members during other times of the year. 

Christmas dinner sometimes means awkward and uncomfortable family conversations. (Dasha Petrenkoy / Shutterstock)

Those awkward and uncomfortable dinner table conversations can cause dread, something Sin says can be avoided. 

"The best way to handle it is to always focus the conversation on where everyone can contribute to in a polite way and to avoid making anyone feel ostracized."

"If all else fails, you can always talk about how great the meal is."