'Tis the season to stress out

It's the most worrisome time of the year. Use these tips to lessen your stress.


It’s hard to feel festive when you’re too tired to keep your eyes open.

But that’s where many Canadians find themselves in the weeks leading up to the holiday season, said Kathy Hegadoren, nursing professor at the University of Alberta.

How to avoid the post-holiday blahs

After our bodies pump out stress hormones for weeks to keep us going, they can enter an exhaustion phase when Christmas is over.

“It’s normal to feel the blues, and often so tired it can be literally impossible to move to a chair to sit down,” said Richard Earle, managing director of the Canadian Institute of Stress in Ottawa.

Do this to help recover your energy:

  1. Don’t worry. Expect to feel down after the holidays. It’s normal.
  2. Plan to have “me time” and relaxing activities right after the holidays.
  3. Focus on something to look forward to right after New Year’s Day.

“The many preparations leading up to Christmas—from shopping, baking and extra meal prep to decorating and social obligations—are supposed to be fun but they’re exhausting,” she said.

At the same time, the holidays can pose financial stresses, especially if money is tight.

Out-of-control stress can take a toll on our physical and mental health, said Troy Janzen, an educational psychologist at UAlberta.

“When we place a lot of stress on our bodies on a regular basis it can impact our immune system and reduce its ability to resist illness. There are correlations between chronic stress and diseases like coronary disease and mental illness.”

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, depression rates spike in Canada during November and December, and don’t return to normal levels until the end of January.

Try to counterbalance seasonal stressors with these handy tips.

1. Maintain healthy sleep habits.

This includes trying to go to bed and wake up the same time every day. “Work in quiet time in the hour before bed and also limit your evening caffeine and alcohol intake,” said Hegadoren.

2. Manage expectations.

It’s easy to get caught up in unrealistic ideas of how the holidays should unfold. But the gap between what we really experience and hope for can create stress, said Janzen. “There are lots of things you can do to challenge your ideas of the holidays. Try something new like personalized gift giving to avoid financial stress.”

3. Set a month-long budget.

Some of us forget to set a budget for extra money that can be spent over the holidays on things like entertaining. “One person in the family should keep a running total to avoid January shock,” said Hegadoren.

4. Plan for grief.

Christmas is especially stressful if you’ve lost someone in recent years, said Janzen. Ask family how they’d like to handle the person’s absence and suggest a change of venue, for example, that will help lessen the loss. “You can still honour the person and have Christmas dinner at someone else’s house.”

5. Pick your parties.

Ask yourself what is manageable, “and consider limiting social engagements so you can build in some downtime before Christmas,” said Hegadoren.

6. Carve out “me time.”

Don’t abandon your coping strategies just because it’s the holidays. “Go to yoga class. Do mindfulness. Pray. Even deep breathing will help bring down stress levels,” said Janzen.

7. Find fail-safe satisfaction.

“Research shows that high levels of stress per se are not as damaging physically and emotionally if you counterbalance with high levels of satisfaction,” said Richard Earle, managing director of the Canadian Institute of Stress in Ottawa. Choose to do something small every day that you’ll find satisfying, such as baking seasonal treats or delivering a gift to a friend.