Taking a Deeper Look: What Causes Holiday Stress?

When you envision the holidays, you may see a perfectly baked turkey on the table, twinkling light displays, tightly wrapped presents, a roaring fireplace and your loved ones with smiles. Unfortunately, most holiday experiences can't live up to our visions.

One survey found that 88% of Americans feel the holiday season is the most stressful time of the year. Why do so many of us feel stressed during the holiday season? According to this survey, there were four recurring causes for many respondents:

  1. Financial strain. The cost of gifts and supplies for social gatherings can quickly add up if you aren't prepared. More than half of respondents in this survey said the financial strain was their top reason for stress.
  2. Finding gifts for everyone. While the cost of gifts is a point of stress for many, the associated expectation surrounding that gift can cause tension as well. Many well-intentioned people can develop anxiety and become engulfed in making sure they deliver the perfect gift.
  3. Stressful family events. Those we are closest to may cause a great deal of stress during the holiday season. Unresolved conflict and unmet expectations can quickly dissolve joyful gatherings into conventions of dissatisfaction.
  4. Putting up decorations. Decorating your home can be a fun way to boost your mood and help you get ready for the holidays. However, if you don't practice safe indoor and outdoor holiday decorating, you can create a stressful situation. 

The Effects of Holiday Stress on the Brain

The challenges we face through the holiday season can affect our brain's ability to process information. According to an article from Harvard Medical School, some psychologists believe the higher number of responsibilities and tasks we tackle during the holidays creates a high demand on the brain, which can put our prefrontal cortex into overdrive. 

When your prefrontal cortex is in overdrive, your brain can experience the following symptoms:

  • A decrease in memory
  • A halted production of new brain cells
  • Death of existing cells

While this can sound scary, most experts say that holiday stress is acute, meaning you don't have to worry about long-term effects from this period. Regardless of what causes you stress during the holidays, you need some ways to combat the stress and enjoy the holiday season. 

Five Ways to Beat Holiday Stress

For many, stress is an inevitable part of the holidays. Rather than dreading it, here are a few ways we can address the things that cause us so much strife during the last few months of the year. 

  1. Create realistic expectations for your holiday festivities. Many of us create expectations of our holiday get-togethers that are picture-perfect. When discussing expectations for the holidays, one psychologist explained how a person's unmet expectations could lead to resentment. Do what you can to make the holidays special for your family and understand that no one's gatherings are perfect. 
  2. Acknowledge your feelings. A life-changing event, like losing a loved one, can turn happy traditions into sad or difficult moments. When feelings of sadness emerge, the last thing you should do is try to suppress or bury your emotions. It's essential to acknowledge your feelings.
  3. Stick to a budget. Creating and sticking to a budget during the holidays can eliminate the stress you may feel surrounding gift purchasing and other seasonal expenses. Make sure you list everyone you will buy for and how much you want to spend. If you are hosting a holiday event, creating a budget for food and supplies is a great idea. If you use Christmas lights, switching to LEDs and timers are just a few ways to avoid energy statement shock.
  4. Indulge in holiday foods responsibly. As stress takes over, it can be easy to overindulge in the delicious but unhealthy foods available at holiday parties and social gatherings. Sticking to your regular diet throughout the holidays can help lower the chance of weight gain associated with high stress.
  5. Take a moment to breathe and collect your thoughts. Deep breathing is a great way to tackle acute stress. According to an article from the University of Pittsburg Medical Center, deep breathing increases the amount of oxygen in your blood, lowering the amount of stress hormones in your blood. 

Electrical Safety: Avoid Holiday Mishaps 

While there are a lot of things you can't control during the holiday season, one thing you can control is practicing electrical safety. Keep your spirits bright and avoid electrical mishaps by checking out some of our excellent safety content today. 
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