5 tips to help tackle holiday stress

We’re heading into what’s often dubbed “the most wonderful time of the year,” and you may agree. Still, added pressures amid the holiday season can test even the jolliest of elves.

Beyond the usual decorating, shopping, cooking, social obligations and more, this year there may again be concerns about avoiding COVID-19 and the seasonal flu. At times, the holidays may be as stressful as they are festive.

It’s important to try to manage the stress that pops up, as prolonged, high levels of it may contribute to health problems, including:

  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive issues
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

To help create a more enjoyable season, consider these tips from Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual:

1.     Know your limits

Budgeting time and money can be key to creating happy holidays.

To avoid a busy schedule that may have you feeling overwhelmed, learn to say no to some invitations. In cases where you can’t, try to find something else that can come off your calendar, so you don’t overextend yourself.

Financial pressures can cause stress during and after the holidays. Set a realistic budget and stick to it.  If money is tight, find low- and no-cost ways to show appreciation for the people in your life.

2.     Give yourself a break

While focusing on others, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. If you feel tension or worry building up, spend a little time focused on something you enjoy about the season, such as watching a movie, enjoying a cup of cocoa or checking out neighborhood decorations. Giving yourself even 15 minutes to unwind may help you recharge and feel better.

3.     Count your blessings

Find time and creative ways to focus on things for which you are grateful. For example, instead of letting a long line at a store feel like a hassle, use the wait time as an opportunity to reflect on the good things that have already happened that day. Research has shown that a focus on gratitude can help to reduce stress. 

4.     Don't abandon good habits

A healthy lifestyle may also help you make it through the holiday rush. Try to stick to your normal sleep schedule, get regular exercise, eat nutrient-rich meals and be cautious about how often and how much you indulge. Going overboard may add stress and guilt — and possibly extra pounds to deal with at resolution time.

5.     Access your health benefits

If you continue to struggle, consider talking to your health care provider or using other resources available through your health plan.

Insurers like UnitedHealthcare offer behavioral health solutions that range from care for your mental health to treatment for substance use disorder. You may have access to a growing number of digital resources, such as Sanvello, an on-demand emotional support app for coping with stress, anxiety and depression.

If your health plan includes the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), you can call anytime for a no-cost, confidential assessment of your situation and a referral to licensed professionals and services. Not sure if EAP is included in your health plan? Call the number on your health plan ID card to find out.

Heading into the holidays with a plan for handling stress may be the best gift you can give yourself and the people who’ll share the season with you.