Tips for Keeping the Season Jolly

5 min read  |  November 29, 2017  | 

It may be ‘Joy to the World’ time, a month full of “Jingle Bells” jolly and “Rudolph the Reindeer” cheer, but we all know that the tinsel and garland season can also be oh-so-stressful.

The frazzle of the holiday, however, doesn’t have to be inevitable. Our main goal should be to keep all those happy duties — gift-buying, cookie-baking, party-hosting, family-sharing — in perspective, says Dr. Firdaus Dhabhar, a behavior science expert with the University of Miami Health System.

“It’s important to keep in mind that many people are indeed happy during the holiday season,” says Dhabhar, who has done extensive work on the beneficial versus harmful effects of stress on health in his laboratory at the University of Miami.  “They may feel stressed at times, and understandably talk about stress, but people also realize the importance of friends, family, love and joy that goes with the holidays.”

While some stressors may loom large to the person suffering through seasonal anxiety, Dhabhar believes many are actually avoidable — or at least manageable. People, he adds, too often worry needlessly about getting the perfect present for everyone on their list or throwing the best party ever.

But it’s important to forget unrealistic expectations.

“Don’t sweat the petty stuff,” Dhabhar advises. “Try not to let small things bother you.”

Of course, some stressors are unavoidable. In addition to the everyday demands of work and family, the holiday season brings with it another layer of responsibilities. There’s always too much to do in too little time, and we run ourselves ragged trying to check things off our “To Do” list. More important, the holidays tend to accentuate daily challenges, Dhabhar adds, including “worrying about not being able to afford something special or even the basic necessities for your family, worrying about your own health or the health of a loved one, missing a loved one who has passed, or is far away working or serving our country.”

Nevertheless, there are ways to bring back the merry times — or at least get through the season with minimal strain:

  • Pace yourself. Give yourself enough time to get through your list. “I’d say try to plan ahead if possible (i.e. start now) and do little by little some things such as gift-buying, decorating, etcetera, so that everything does not pile up,” Dhabhar suggests.
  • Say no. You don’t have to do everything. Again from Dhabhar: “If you are extremely hard-pressed for time, and have too many parties to go to, if at all possible, cut down on some parties/engagements. Or go to the party, meet and wish people sincerely, and then leave sooner than you’d have liked to.”
  • Give up on perfection and give yourself permission to occasionally feel like the Grinch. “Go with the flow,” Dhabhar says, “and let yourself feel what naturally comes to you, when it comes to you.”
  • Remember that the season is not about gifts. “It also helps us all to remind ourselves that the main spirit of the holidays is not about gifts. It’s about love, appreciation, reflection, spirituality, and wonderment,” Dhabhar says.
  • Find a stress-busting activity that works for you. Some people swear by yoga or meditation, but Dhabhar believes you should also look beyond traditional contemplative activities. He suggests trying artistic endeavors, such as crafting, painting, and photography,  as well as exercising outdoors, including nature walks, running, going to the beach, fishing, boating, dancing, fixing cars, and gardening. Different activities work for different personality types.
  • Get enough sleep. Exhaustion only aggravates an already trying situation.
  • Be supportive of a friend or family member who might be feeling stressed, no matter how avoidable you think the stressor is. Everyone experiences (and reacts) to stress in different ways. If you’re the one feeling tense and anxious, seek out friends or relatives who can help. “Social support can be a strong buffer against chronic stress,” Dhabhar says.
  • Accept the fact you’re going to indulge in a few extra calories. “My advice would be to not try to resist completely,” Dhabhar says. “Few people have the ability to do that without stressing themselves in the process. If you are such a person, then go ahead and resist completely, but if not, recognize that eating and enjoying food and drink in moderation is fine.”
  • Grin and bear it. Accept the fact that you don’t have to like everyone at the family get together. Or, quite simply, limit the time you spend with your obnoxious Cousin Harry or loud Aunt Gertrude. “Remind yourself that it is not worth letting the person who annoys you ruin your joyful time with everyone else who you like or love,” Dhabhar suggests.” For example, why let the inappropriate uncle or aunt ruin your time with your precious mom, dad, grandma and grandpa?”

In the end, remember that the holiday season comes but once a year and its demands are handled best when we forgive others — and ourselves — for the occasional misstep.  Instead of trying to control everything, live the moment. As Dhabhar so aptly put it, “The thought that so many people in our country and the world over are celebrating is in itself something to be happy about.”

Ana Veciana-Suarez, Guest Contributor

Ana is a regular contributor for the University of Miami Health System. She is a renowned journalist and author, who has worked at The Miami HeraldThe Miami News and The Palm Beach Post. Visit her website at or follow @AnaVeciana on Twitter.

Tags: Dr. Firdaus Dhabhar, holiday blues, holiday stress, mental wellness

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