The end of the year is fast approaching and with it comes holiday season stress. But don't fear, our behavioural research scientist is here with some top tips.

In the holiday season there is an increased intensity of emotion (good and bad), more time pressures and financial pressures. Then, for some, there’s additional Santa duties and ultimately an increased risk of a coronary event.

There is also increased risk of presentation to emergency due to food poisoning, accidents with new toys (remember the Hoverboards of 2015) and decorating incidents such as ladder falls.

For every person who connects with their loved ones, there is someone else who is reminded of the grief for theirs. For some, more time with their families exposes existing fractures and tensions within complex relationships. So, is it time to put on the Grinch suit and take it all away? No. But maybe we do need to re-think some parts of it and how we manage holiday season stress.

holiday season stress. Woman looks stressed and stares at computer.

The holiday season can be stressful, especially for women.

Even Santa can’t do it all

Santa has his reindeers, elves and of course Mrs Claus to help him out. But how can we reduce our stress at this time of year?

Some of those end-of-year deadlines may be hard to adjust, but there are certain elements we can control. Think about your buckets of control. What parts can you take control of?

Not all things need to be perfect. The lights didn’t get put up this year? No problem, you’ll save some money on the power bill. Santa didn’t wrap presents? Maybe he’s opted for a more sustainable approach to gift-giving.

What parts can you influence but not fully control? Do both sides of the family have to have a get together on the big day? Have an honest conversation about what works for you and your family.

holiday season stress. Image of a house decorated with Christmas lights.

Didn’t get time to add 10,000 lights to your home this year? No worries. Santa will still find you.

Holiday season stress? Slow it down

Everyone is in a rush to spread their ‘holiday cheer’ but this idea can sometimes do quite the opposite. Stay away from the carparks and order some things online. If there was one good thing about the pandemic, it was the changes to ‘click and collect’ and delivery services.

Take your time when using ladders and hanging decorations. And check your house for new hazards. We do it in our workplace, why not our home? Is that tinsel a tripping hazard? Is the power board overloaded? Rushing from house to house on Christmas day while you’re angry and stressed is not going to serve any purpose.

holiday season stress. Image of woman holding Christmas card.

Delegate some Christmas tasks to other people.

Make a list and don’t check it twice – delegate!

Women appear to be most affected by increases in stress during the holiday season. Maybe it’s time to share the load. Let go of that inner voice telling you everything needs to be perfect.

Trust others to write some of your Christmas cards or wrap presents. If you’re having family and friends over, allocate and ask people to bring food or use foods that require minimal preparation. It is a trap to take everything on yourself because others aren’t offering to help or because you don’t want to be a burden.

Sometimes people simply need to be asked to help because they think you have it under control or you don’t want their help. Start asking.

Don’t be afraid to be sad

It’s a time to be merry. That is what all the Christmas cards will tell you. It’s inevitable that when we turn up the volume on our happy emotions, some of those negative emotions also get louder.

No one wants to be the wet blanket on a celebration. But holding in those feelings also isn’t doing anyone any favours. They inevitably bubble to the surface through impatience, snappy responses and looks of displeasure. Your social resources are one of the strongest ones you have to help you manage stress. Talk to your family about how you’re feeling. Open the dialogue.

holiday season stress. Group of people 'cheers' glasses over Christmas lunch.

Holiday season can be stressful with large family gatherings, indulgent food and extra alcohol.

A bit less of everything

The holiday season is generally a time for indulgence – more stuff, more food, more alcohol, more sitting around. You don’t have to skip out on the indulgence but you also don’t have to eat to the point of feeling sick.

Too much of a good thing actually does not satisfy us and just leaves our pleasure centres hungry for its next hit. Take it easy on the alcohol. It can add further to those heightened emotions as well as increasing disinhibition. No one wants family drama on Christmas Day.

Connection is key

Many people’s social connections have suffered during the pandemic. With restrictions easing and people on annual leave, it is a great time to reconnect.

Use celebrations to talk and focus on reconnecting. Reach out to friends and family. You will soon be reminded of what connects you. Yes, I am saying do less while also adding this to your holiday season to-do list.

We have limited energy and it’s important to direct it toward the things that are the best for our emotional health.

Socialising inevitably comes with more eating and drinking. But this is something else that requires a rethink. Why not get together and do something fun or take a walk or visit a park? Connecting with nature can be more reinvigorating than a pub meal and beer.

I hope these tips get you through what can be a stressful time. But it can be a great time to rest, reconnect and revel. So enjoy it!