How to stress less this winter – a psychologist-approved toolkit

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During the festive period, our stress levels can reach an all-time high. Livi Psychologist Madeleine Gauffin advises on how to manage stress and build resilience in the lead up to Christmas

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The festive period can be a challenging time for many of us – from the strain of work pressures to family commitments. It can also be a difficult time for those of us who’ve lost a loved one and are managing grief alongside everything else.

‘There’s more to do in the lead up to the festive season and this can be hard to deal with, especially as many people are stressed or overwhelmed already,’ explains Livi Psychologist Madeleine Gauffin.

Here, we share some advice to help you stress less and some easy stress management techniques to try during the lead up to the holidays.

What are the key symptoms of stress?

Stress can affect us all differently, but there are universal symptoms that many people experience. ‘Symptoms can be physical, like back pain, headaches, joint pain or stomach ache,’ says Gauffin. ‘It can also show up through cognitive symptoms like difficulty concentrating or extreme fatigue. People who live with stress may find their moods are erratic and they might feel low a lot of the time.’

Here, we share some advice to help you manage your certain stressful situations alongside some easy stress management techniques to try during the lead up to the holidays.

Stressor 1: Stressful family gatherings and dynamics

Try this: really consider how you want to spend your time

Just because things feel more open this year, it doesn’t mean you have to spend time with absolutely everyone you know and love.

If you’re worried about family pressure, try putting boundaries in place. ‘Families can be invasive or cast shame or guilt,’ adds Gauffin. ‘You don’t have to justify your decision on how you spend your time. Allow yourself to be honest and try to communicate that.’

Stressor 2: Social pressures

Try this: pause before committing

The pressure to commit to every party and social invite might feel overwhelming. ‘We think that people will be disappointed or angry if we say no, but if we spend our life trying to please others, we end up missing out on living our own paths,’ says Gauffin.

Try saying, ‘Let me think about that and get back to you,’ or a simple, ‘Thank you, but I can’t.’ It could help to alleviate some stress around the festive period.

Stressor 3: Pre-holiday work stress

Try this: set realistic goals and deadlines

With many offices closing down over Christmas, deadlines and the rush to get ahead can be stress-inducing. Dividing your workload into achievable tasks can help manage stress around work.

‘Figure out some realistic goals you can accomplish before you leave for the holiday. If your manager or team have unrealistic expectations, try to work with them to set more achievable tasks and timelines,’ says Gauffin. ‘The rest will have to wait.’

Stressor 4: Not getting enough sleep (and stressing about it)

Try this: work to identify the core reasons

Stress can have a big effect on our sleep, as it can keep our brains stimulated instead of letting us switch off. ‘Try to identify what’s causing your main source of stress,’ suggests Gauffin. ‘What are your key triggers? Are they work-related or are relationships the cause?’

You can do this on your own, but talking to a trusted friend can also help – or you may need to work with a therapist. Once you’ve worked to identify the key causes, set some boundaries around bedtime and try to consciously power down before trying to sleep. Speak to a doctor if you’re having ongoing sleep issues

Trigger: Uncertainty around plans

Try this: accept and adapt when things don’t go to plan

‘It’s important to remember that there are very few things in life that you can actually control,’ says Gauffin. ‘So, if things don’t go to plan, try to accept that this happens and do your best to adapt to the situation you’re faced with.’ You could practice building resilience by mixing up your routine, trying a new route to work or being completely spontaneous.

5 stress management techniques to try now

1. Fit in some movement

‘Exercise helps manage stress by lowering our cortisol levels and releasing endorphins,’ says Gauffin. Find an activity you enjoy, like yoga, walking, cycling or team sports, and you’ll feel more motivated to squeeze it into your routine.

2. Try a breathing exercise

Research shows that controlled breathing exercises can help reduce symptoms of stress. Try diaphragmatic breathing, which involves taking deep, mindful breaths for 2-3 minutes.

3. Limit the alcohol

During the lead up to Christmas, celebrations can be synonymous with alcohol. ‘If you’re stressed, avoid alcohol. It adds toxins to your body and can have an impact on much-needed sleep,’ Gauffin advises.

4. Do a guided meditation

There’s plenty of evidence to show that regular meditation can help alleviate the key symptoms of stress, with one study showing that short, guided mindfulness meditations are effective at reducing work stress. Try a 5-minute guided meditation before bed to help you relax.

5. Talk to someone

Sometimes, you may need professional support to help manage feelings of stress – particularly if you’re also struggling with grief or mental health issues. If you regularly feel overwhelmed, book an appointment to speak to a doctor or therapist.

Here are some other reasons to talk to a doctor:

  • Your stress levels are affecting your day-to-day life
  • You’re experiencing very disturbed sleep
  • You feel very low or are experiencing a lack of energy
  • You’re experiencing erratic mood swings

This article has been medically approved by Livi Psychologist Madeleine Gauffin.

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