Holiday season is upon us. And if you’re ready to pull your hair out, you’re not alone. Nearly half of all women and just over 30 percent of men report being under more stress around the holidays than usual, according to a national survey from the American Psychological Association.
“A lot of pressure comes from the fact that the holidays are quintessentially social, which means they come with social entanglements,” Thomas Gilovich, professor of psychology at Cornell University, told The Huffington Post. “We get anxious about letting people down, not living up to our responsibilities or being seen in a less than favorable light.”
Of course, the same people who cause us stress during the holidays are also responsible for making it the “most wonderful time of the year” in the first place, Gilovich explained. In the end, the feeling of actually being satisfied around the holidays comes from connecting with others.
“Be with the people you care about and who care about you. Don’t try to cram too much in. Enjoy good food, talk and play games ― you’ll remember it fondly,” Gilovich said.
Need some inspiration? Start with these seven tips:
1. Don’t stress out about the perfect gift.
In keeping with a long line of research, a new study Gilovich conducted seems worth bearing in mind over the holidays. It suggests that people experience more gratitude for what they’ve done than they feel for things they have.
Gilovich and his colleagues analyzed 600 online customer reviews for experiential purchases like restaurant meals or hotel stays, and 600 online reviews for material purchases like furniture and clothing. The reviews for experiential purchases were more likely to spontaneously mention feeling grateful than the reviews for material purchases.
We’re a very social species. A lot of gratification comes from being around others ― especially close friends and loved ones.
Thomas Gilovich, professor of psychology at Cornell University
People often say they love certain possessions, but it’s a whole lot more likely to hear people say they are grateful for a trip they took or that they “feel blessed,” Gilovich said.
The study wasn’t specifically about gift giving, but the research does suggest that people tend to feel more grateful for experiences versus material things, he added. So when it comes to searching for that perfect present, remember that taking time to actually connect with the people you are shopping for (and care about!) is important, too.
“We’re a very social species,” Gilovich said. “A lot of gratification comes from being around others ― especially close friends and loved ones.”
2. Set expectations.
Each day of the holiday season has 24 hours, just like every other day of the year. And no matter how much we pack our schedules, no one can actually do it all.
Instead of trying to take on everything, identify what’s most important to you to get done and make a plan to accomplish those things, one small step at a time, the American Psychological Association recommends.
3. Work it OUT.
It can be easy to skip the gym this time of year, with all the social engagements, holiday shopping and hosting responsibilities, but do your best to schedule it in. Exercise helps regulate anxiety by releasing endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, and reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Still having trouble making your usual spin class?
“There are endless opportunities for fitness,” Charlee Atkins, a New York City-based senior instructor at SoulCycle, told HuffPost. Brisk walking, swimming, cycling, stair climbing, yoga or any aerobic activities all deliver these stress-busting benefits.
4. Get your shuteye.
Sleep patterns can get thrown way out of whack when it comes to the holidays, Chad Buck, a clinical psychologist at Vanderbilt University, explained in a blog post. Try to hit the pillow at a reasonable hour and make your sleep a priority, he said.
5. Make a budget ― and stick to it!
A mountain of presents won’t buy happiness. And spending beyond your means is an easy way to send your stress levels soaring.
Before hitting the mall (or the grocery store), make a budget for the items you plan to buy and stick to it. Consider homemade gifts or a family gift exchange to lower your bottom line.
6. Don’t overbook yourself.
Holiday parties are fun. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off for the whole month of December shopping, baking, wrapping and trying to make a daily social engagement is not fun.
It’s ok to say no, Richard Stein, professor of medicine and cardiology at the New York University School of Medicine, told the American Heart Association. And you’ll enjoy the events you do go to more.
7. Too much fussing to make something perfect can ruin it altogether.
Everything does not need to be perfect, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, explained in a blog post. “Ease up on yourself and everyone else, so you can enjoy the day.”
Even if things don’t go exactly how you would have hoped, try to enjoy it, she said. “Too much fussing to make an experience ‘perfect’ can sometimes ruin it altogether.”
Permission to skip the homemade mason jar candles with calligraphy labels for everyone on your Christmas list? Granted.
Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at [email protected].