You don’t need me to tell you that the holiday season can be one of the more stressful times of the year.
What I’m here to do is to tell you about five easy, evidence-based actions you can take to help handle the holiday stress.
I offer these five actions not only because they have been proven effective in the peer-reviewed psychology literature but also because anyone can do them with little time and effort.
One of the best ways to handle stress is to realize that stress can be a good thing. Stress has many benefits, ranging from improving focus and memory to releasing hormones that help the immune system.
Research shows that viewing stress as positive and enhancing, rather than negative and debilitating, can help you handle stressful events.
Remember your values
Going into the holiday season, it is important to remember the things that are really important.
Across multiple studies when participants wrote what value (e.g. family) was most important to them and why it was important -- compared to participants who did not write about their most important value -- were better able to handle stress.
So be sure to take some time out this holiday season to think about what value is more important to you and why.
Write it out
Should you have a particularly stressful event this holiday season, you may want to consider taking time out to write about that experience.
When writing about the experience, it is helpful to try to distance yourself from the experience as much as possible.
To do this, write about your experience from the perspective of an objective third-party observer. Research finds that this helped participants engage in productive self-reflection and reduces their stress.
One of the best ways to manage stress is to engage in physical activity. Physical activity releases endorphins, which are hormones that help combat stress, improves mood, and can help clear your mind.
Recent research finds that doing a high-intensity work out for as short as seven minutes can provide the same benefits as a longer endurance workout.
And if you’re not fitness fanatic, you can still get the benefits of working out from taking a 30-minute walk. You can help boost the stress-busting impact of your workout by listening to your favorite music or by working out outside surrounded by nature.
Use smaller plates
So this isn’t about stress, but it will help you keep from overindulging on holiday food. If you use smaller plates and serving utensils (think salad plate vs. dinner plate and teaspoon vs. tablespoon) you will likely eat less food without necessarily realizing it.
This is because people tend to base how much they serve themselves on the size of their plates and tend to mindlessly finish all food that is on their plates.
These five tips should help you effectively handle your stress during the holidays. Whether you try one or all of them, you should find the relief you're looking for during this time of year.
Matt Trujillo received his Ph.D. in psychology and social policy from the Psychology Department and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He currently works in the public health field and has published multiple articles applying social and behavioral science to health.