In “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” when extended family rings the doorbell, the doorbell tone changes from jovial to menacing. If you hear the same sound in your head when family arrives – or just when you think about being around them – it’s a sign you should try to relax before and after the holidays. Here’s a quick list of ways to relax, followed by more detailed explanations of ways you can reduce your holiday stress:
- Send yourself flowers. Or pick up a bouquet from the market on the way home from work, and put them in a room where you’ll see them every day. Refresh them as necessary.
- Exercise. Go for a short jog or a long walk to gain perspective and decompress.
- Sit in the sun for 10 minutes. Sunlight provides us with Vitamin D and may reduce your chances of having Seasonal Affective Disorder, often brought on by the long, dark winter evenings.
- Learn something. Whether you visit cooking school, language school or actually go back to school, you’ll preoccupy yourself with the new activity instead of stress.
- Consume more Omega-3. Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines, as well as walnuts, flaxseeds and enriched eggs combat the stress hormone cortisol.
- Have a good cry. Whether you watch that sad pet-adoption commercial over and over or immerse yourself in a tearjerker novel, you’ll let out negative feelings and make room for positive ones.
- Retreat. Go into your bedroom, shut the door, sit on the bed and breathe deeply for 10 to 15 minutes. Sitting in the quiet for a short time can renew your sense of peace and calm.
- Get traditional. Few things relax a person like a routine, so turn on your favorite holiday songs, watch your favorite holiday movie and pour yourself a mug of your favorite holiday drink while you decorate your home with traditional ornaments and mementoes.
Before: Family isn’t the only stressor; traveling through traffic to shop in pushy crowds for overpriced items is enough to make anyone want to hibernate. Instead of losing your cool in public, shop from the comfort of your pajamas with a cup of coffee, and save money in the long run. Sign up for an Amazon.com Prime trial membership and receive free two-day shipping for your first three months of membership, which is perfect timing for the holidays and post-holiday budget recovery. With the Add it Up program from Bank of America, use your Bank of America card that you’ve registered to shop your favorite online stores using their site links to earn up to 20 percent cash back on items you would have purchased anyway. Sites such as RetailMeNot.com offer promotional codes for your favorite stores.
After: If you’re not seeing some family and friends until after the holidays, wait until January or February to purchase certain items, such as electronics, which will plummet in price after that time. Or, sell the random gift cards you received to sites such as Plastic Jungle or Gift Card Granny, where you’ll get an Amazon.com gift card, PayPal credit or cash in return.
Treat yourself – a little
Before: Attend a yoga class a few days a week in the weeks leading up to the holidays to stretch, meditate and think positively.
After: Treat yourself to an hour-long foot massage (about $30 at spas specializing in it) or a 30-minute full-body massage. Indulge in hot bubble baths with candles surrounding you (and a glass of wine in hand) whenever you feel the need.
Budget, then buy nothing
Before: Few topics stress people out like finances. Fill out a Holiday Gift Spending Worksheet to determine who you need to buy gifts for and how much you’ll spend on them, and track your spending throughout the season. Buy gifts for your immediate family members first, so if you run out of money, you can make gifts for those remaining on your list.
After: If you overspent this holiday season, vow to have a “Buy Nothing” month in January – and maybe even February. “Buy Nothing” means you only buy your basic necessities and even try to make do with what you have if you run out. Cook all meals from scratch (it will help to buy cheap or ground cuts of meat and produce in season), walk instead of drive and pay all bills, but cut out entertainment, dining out (including that daily coffee shop drink) and clothing purchases for 30 days. If you run out of toiletries, use your travel ones or search for forgotten bottles of shampoo and lotion in your cabinets. To further your frugality, rely on pantry staples, such as grains, dried pasta and dried beans bought in bulk, and cut your meat consumption in half – or go vegetarian for a month. You’ll save from $200 to $400 each month, depending on what you do without, which can go a long way in paying down those holiday bills or reaching your savings goals.
Photo Credit: iStockphoto/skynesher