Christmas stress: Tips for keeping it real this season

Over-spending. Over-eating and over-drinking. Trying to find the perfect gifts. Party planning and visiting with relatives. Feel your blood pressure rising just thinking about it all?

'Keep it simple, keep it happy, keep the thought going, and stay in budget'

Tips for getting through the holidays without letting the stress build up. (CBC)

Over-spending. Over-eating and over-drinking. Trying to find the perfect gifts for everyone. Party planning and visiting with relatives. All sources of stress as schedules become jam-packed and budgets are stretched through the holiday season.

So we sought out a couple of experts for advice on handling the hectic holidays.

Liz MacKay is a stay-at-home mom with five children who shares her penny-pinching tips with Islanders through her column Fighting to be Frugal on CBC Radio's Mainstreet.

Liz MacKay's column Fighting to be Frugal can be heard on CBC Radio's Mainstreet. (CBC)

MacKay's number one tip to reduce holiday stress? Setting a budget for the season — and sticking to it.

"If you don't set a budget for Christmas, it's very easy for it to mushroom," MacKay told Mainstreet host Karen Mair. "Set a budget of what you can truly afford.

"Make a list and check it twice. And see if you have everybody possibly on there that you have to buy a gift for — there's none of these last-minute, 'Oh my goodness I forgot to buy for aunt so-and-so.'"

Look at each name and decide how much you will spend on that person. After tallying up individual amounts, MacKay said the total cannot exceed your overall budget number.

"And make sure you're thinking about the gifts, buy with a purpose and a thought," she said. "And that takes a lot of stress off of it right there." 

Don't forget to tally in charitable donations you will be expected to make, teacher gifts, and food that may exceed your usual food budget.

MacKay said she also makes a commitment not to buy anything on impulse.

"Just leave that stuff out. You don't need all of that," she said. "Keep it simple, keep it happy, keep the thought going, and stay in budget." 

Manage expectations

Anne Dobson, a registered counsellor with Homewood Health in Halifax, hears from lots of stressed-out clients during the holidays.

It is about being mindful, and making choices around self-care.— Anne Dobson

"Be realistic," is Dobson's top holiday stress-busting tip. "There is no perfection ... Realize there is stress and disappointment in the holidays."

Like MacKay, she said planning is key.

"Time and money are the two big areas of stress and we have to realize they are both limited resources."

Dobson advises people create a plan on how they want to spend both, and be selective. 

Saying no

Many struggle with saying no to party invitations, concerts, and other Christmas activities. 

"Just say, 'I'm not able to.' You don't have to say why," Dobson said.

Anne Dobson is a Halifax-based clinical manager of the Employee and Family Assistance Program with Homewood Health. (Anne Dobson)

If a host presses, she advises just being honest: say you have too much going on and need some time to yourself.

"It is about being mindful, and making choices around self-care," she said. 

She also advises people take the time to remind themselves about their own beliefs and expectations. 

"Build in a few moments to sit, do some deep breathing to contemplate and be in the moment."

Dobson said rest, exercise, sleep and nutrition are the important pillars of self-care that can keep people out of the holiday doldrums.

Eating properly can be especially tough during the holidays, but Dobson advises treating yourself with food and alcohol in moderation.

"For me it's the shortbreads. I love them but I have to remind myself I don't need the whole tray I just baked.". 

Get connected

Dobson added it's important to remember that some people don't look forward to the holidays, which can increase feelings of loneliness and disconnection. But hard as it might be, getting connected is an antidote. 

"Even if it means volunteering. It feels pretty good to give back," she said. 

How do you know if you're not coping well?

A change in eating habits, sudden weight loss or gain, poor sleep, increased irritability, fatigue and weepiness, said Dobson, are all signs you "should take a step back and figure out where your time and energy is going." 

She also said people should be aware of their local mental health resources, including any clinics, workplace counselling services, and emergency hotlines. 


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