Biting your nails over finances or panicking over the number of cookies you’ve inhaled during the holidays? You’re not alone.
“Stress is heightened during the holiday season,” says Bill Scheinman, a San Francisco-based life coach that focuses on stress reduction. “There is the existential stress that comes as the year nears its end. We assess the place we're at in our lives and decide if we're achieving our life goals or not.”
A recent 2015 Healthline survey that measured holiday stress shows that overall the majority of respondents were stressed. However, more gen Xers reported feeling stressed (65 percent) with baby boomers (62 percent) and millennials (61 percent) neck and neck.
Related: How Successful People Manage Stress
Let’s explore why people get stressed around the holiday season and how it breaks down over age groups.
Causes of stress
No surprise, money is the top cause of stress at nearly 50 percent, according to Healthline. Among age groups, gen Xers and millennials cite finances as their primary source of stress at 53 percent each, while 35 percent of baby boomers cite finances as a top stressor. What’s stressing out boomers? Twenty one percent were worried about adhering to healthy eating and fitness habits. Nineteen percent were stressed about selecting the right gifts.
While health habits preoccupy boomers, gen Xers are the least worried about being healthy at 11.3 percent -- millennials come in at 16 percent.
Other stress agents across all ages are family drama and dynamics and navigating scheduling (i.e. coordinating events to attend and travel plans). Millennials who work in the retail industry doing seasonal work stress over the amount of time spent at work, finding time to eat and a disrupted sleep cycle.
“Our routines are interrupted -- by travel, guests, parties and the holidays themselves,” says Spencer Blackman, a primary care physician at One Medical Group, who sees various factors come into play with his stressed-out patients around the holidays. “We may work, sleep, eat and exercise in ways that are less healthy and supportive than normal.”
Blackman also cites the loss of productivity at work during this time in conjunction with compressed deadlines before holiday travel to be a cause of stress.
Along with finances, activities related to eating weigh in as universal stressors for the majority of Healthline’s survey respondents. Social customs around the holidays are not only time vampires, but can derail healthy eating and exercise objectives.
Sixty seven percent of respondents host and prepare food for holiday get-togethers, and 52 percent of those who host gatherings will prepare dishes for guests with special dietary needs (gluten-free, paleo diet or sugar-free). A good portion of respondents (36 percent) said they ask guests with special dietary needs to bring a dish to share and a bold 12 percent said they tell the gluten-free eaters to bring their own food.
Then, there is the question we ask ourselves at the end of every year: How much do I let myself go and pig out?
An impressive 42 percent eat and drink whatever they want, while 53 percent watch what they eat and drink without counting calories. A mere 5 percent are conscientious about monitoring food intake and calories using the foot scale as a guide.
Broken down by generation, millennials were the most likely to splurge -- 56 percent -- and eat whatever they want, to hell with the calories. Gen Xers and baby boomers are a bit more cautious: 62 percent of boomers said they watch what they eat but don’t count calories, while 54 percent of the gen Xers reported likewise. (Forty percent of millennial respondents replied the same.)
Luckily, there is a prescription for stress. Here are some tips to get through your jam-packed holidays:
- Plan: “If you’re entertaining friends and family or organizing a work party, it takes upstream work to ensure a smooth event," Blackman says. "Engage your support system and make a plan before things get crazy.”
- Pass on that extra cocktail: “Extra alcohol can degrade sleep quality and ultimately lead to increased stress levels,” Blackman advises. “Try to stick to one or two drinks per evening or event, and you'll be fine.”
- Sit still for 10 minutes a day and be aware of your breath: “There is no goal for this practice except to just sit and be,” says Scheinman. “When we try to sit still and be aware of our breathing for even 10 minutes, we become aware of all the things that worry us. By returning to the breath each time we are distracted, we have an anchor for our attention and a refuge from our discomfort. If we can hang out with what worries us without needing to change things, we start to relax and not take things so personally.”
- Move: “Make it a priority to get out for a walk over lunch or stick to your regular gym schedule no matter what,” Blackman says. “This is when it really counts.”
- Remind yourself of what you are grateful for: “Instead of feeling pressure for things you need to do or achieve, gratitude practice can help us relax and realize that there is already so much that is working in our lives,” Scheinman says.
As Blackman points out, keep your perspective. There is always something stressful in life -- and there is always something to appreciate -- whether it be the fudge your co-worker brought into the office or the quality time off with friends and loved ones.
“Find something you appreciate about the holidays," Blackman says, "and you'll already be ahead of the curve."