Holiday Season = Stress! (but it doesn't have to)

For how many of you does the holiday season mean stress? For those who give gifts, not only do you have to think about each person individually and consider what they might like as a gift, but you also have to go to the store and brave the crowds, or surf the web for the best deal and snag one of the "only 5 left" items. Oh, and let's not forget the family gatherings with pinch-happy relatives (catty ones, too) and screaming hurricanes called kids. 

What's important to realize though, is that the holiday season DOES NOT have to equate to stress, and you DO NOT have to feel like "there's nothing you can do about." So what can you do to beat the stress? Or at least minimize it...

1. Understand What Makes You Tick

Build your sensory awareness skills. Consider the past holiday situations that would give you stress.  Spending time to figure out what it is that actually bothers you not only helps you gain insight into your personal stressors, but also helps you realize that there are things you can do to prevent the stress from piling up. For example, does looking for parking really stress you out, or is it that you leave the house late and then can't find parking and so you're late, which then stresses you out? 

Go through the following five senses and ask yourself whether you have specific things in each category that bother you and then think of things that you like. Think about the things that bother you in everyday situations as well as in typical holiday situations. In each section, there are some examples of "stressbusters," or things that you can do that will help you manage stress.

  1. See: Do too dim/bright lights bother you? Do tight spaces bother you? What are some things that seem to calm you when you see them?
  2. Touch: Do you hate it when people touch you? Is there a specific person who bothers you when they touch you? Does it bother you especially when someone softly touches you, e.g. when they're trying to scoot by you? Do you like getting big bear hugs? Are there certain textures that you really like? 
  3. Taste: Are there certain tastes or textures that you dislike? What about the ones that you like? Why do you like them? Do you like some in specific situations?
  4. Smell: What are some smells that bother you? Some smells that you like? Why do you like them? When do you like them, e.g. lavender when trying to sleep or citrus when trying to focus? 
  5. Hear: What are some sounds that bother you? Is there a way to avoid them? What are some sounds that you like? 

For more tips, check out Developing Sensory and Environmental Awareness. If you are traveling for the holidays, check out Travel Packing Tips for the Sensory Aversive.

2. Make a plan. 

Start your planning for the season now. Whether it's gift buying or buying food and cooking for the potlucks you may have to go to.  How do you like to plan things? Do you write lists? Do you like to look at a calendar? If you are not a planner, what is a small step you can do to help you start? (Try writing down just 1 to-do item every other day that will help you reach your shopping/cooking/prepping goal.) 

Create a plan for days that you know you will be experiencing more stress, and share it with the people who are a part of your plan. For example, make sure you communicate with your partner and compromise how long you would like to stay at whoever's party. Come up with a plan that will help you destress on that day, whether it is taking a hot bath right before the event or standing away from the crowds every once in a while if a lot of noise and touching are not your thing. 

The following is a list of the above sense and possible solutions that you can add to your plan. Try to come up with your own solutions that work specifically for you, and you'll have an easier time sticking with your plan. 

  1. See
    • Move to a dimmer room if bright lights mixed with the increasing noise are really bothering you.
    • Try keeping a picture of something or someone that has a calming effect on you somewhere easily accessible, such as on your phone or in your wallet. 
  2. Touch: 
    • Light pressure can actually be very disorienting, so one way to help yourself when someone brushes against you lightly is to rub hard or press hard on that spot.
    • Or when you start to feel stressed or anxious, ask your grandma who gives out the best hugs or your partner to give you a great big bear hug. If you take a deep breath at the same time, you will feel like a different person when the hug is over.
  3. Taste: 
    • Avoid the tastes and textures that you dislike and consciously enjoy the ones that you do like (in moderation of course). Consciously eating foods you like, taking the time to enjoy each taste, feeling the texture, is not only calming, but also distracting from whatever is causing you stress. Again, keep in mind moderation
  4. Smell: 
    • Try wearing your favorite perfume or keeping a little sample with you (Sephora! All you have to do is ask for a sample, and they'll give you one that you can keep in your purse or your pocket). Or be old-fashioned and spray some on a little handkerchief.
    • If it's the smell of a certain chapstick that you like, keep that with you as well. 
  5. Hear  
    • If you like talking to a certain grandfather, but can hardly hear him half the time, pull him into a quieter room to have the conversation. You both have feet (or wheels depending on the situation), and you can use them.
    • For a gathering with friends at a restaurant, can you ask to pick a quieter dinner restaurant, instead of "the usual"? 

What are your self-help tips?