Coping with Stress During the Holidays
With the holidays fast approaching, many individuals, including therapists, teachers, counselors, administrators and support staff, are starting to feel the stress the holidays and festivities can sometimes bring. However, when your average day is coupled with a holiday office party, a school luncheon or a holiday party with friends or family members, every day, during the month of December, can feel like a day you always have to be “on.”
Trying to plan the perfect menu for your holiday meal or bring a popular side dish to one of many potlucks you’re attending can become extremely overwhelming. Finding the time to wrap all the gifts and have them look photo ready also can cause stress. In addition, many people feel like they need to or should cram in every tradition and event to make sure every day is memorable. When you add in financial burden, traveling, visiting family members, and remembering and coping with friends and family members who have passed, the stress can come fast and without warning.
Stress to our body can sneak up on us. We might not even notice that we’re experiencing the stress until days or weeks later, or even in this case, after the craziness of December is over.
Here are some signs and symptoms that your body is experiencing stress: headaches, back pain, tight shoulders, indigestion, heartburn, fatigue, irritability, anger, anxiety, lack of sleep, depression, chest pains, high blood pressure, panic attacks, dizziness, sweating, diarrhea and/or constipation.
If you’re looking for suggestions on how to navigate the choppy waters of teaching, lesson planning, grading, attending IEP and 504 meetings, and managing student behavior (whether some students are acting out because the holidays bring up sad feelings or memories or because they are excited for the holidays) as the countdown begins for the long awaited 14 days of rest, relaxation and much needed downtime, then we have 15 tips for you.
At E-Therapy, we compiled a list of tips you can utilize to manage your stress all-year round, but especially during the holiday season leading up to your winter break and throughout your winter break.
Five General Tips to Help with Stress Management During the Holidays
According to research, adults laugh an average of 17 times a day while preschool-aged children laugh an average of 300 times a day. So if it’s listening to your favorite comedian live or on a screen, watching your “go-to” funny Instagram reels or TikTok videos, or hanging out with the ones who make you belly laugh, do it. Laugh out loud as you watch those videos or laugh until you cry with your friends or family. The tip is to make sure you laugh more because you’ll feel so much better.
Most everyone craves, and truly needs, physical touch. When you feel drained or stressed, find someone you care about and give them a long embrace. Research shows that when you hug someone for at least 20 seconds, it decreases the stress hormone cortisol and increases the release of oxytocin which can create a stronger bond between the huggers. In addition, according to Psychology Today, even a cushion in the form of a hugger is enough to lower stress levels; hugging while talking is much better for your stress levels than just talking alone. In short, a hug can be powerful.
Be Good to Your Body
Get up and move your body, even if it’s just for 10 minutes at a time or a day. Whether it’s a walk around your school, your office, your neighborhood or window shopping at a nearby mall, stretching your legs and moving around also will help with that stress. And if you’re able to listen to music, you’ll walk even longer. This little bit of exercise will release those feel-good endorphins your brain craves to help with any stress you‘re feeling. Not only is it important to exercise, but it’s also important to incorporate some healthy foods into your diet, if you haven’t already. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, research suggests that certain foods, like polyunsaturated fats including omega-3 fats, such as fish, vegetable oil, nuts and leafy green vegetables may help regulate cortisol levels.
Mediate, Breathe and Share
When you do “nothing” at all, that can help reduce stress. And by doing nothing, that means purposefully focusing on your breath and your surroundings. The nice thing about meditation is that you can incorporate it into your daily life, even if it’s just for 10 minutes, and you can do it anywhere. It’s a time for you to “pause” for a moment. Also, after the loss of a family member, it can be difficult celebrating a holiday. However, opening up to someone about your loss and their absence might help you feel better during this time. It might even help if you incorporate new traditions, especially if keeping the old traditions are too painful. If you need to stop what you’re doing for some time to just breathe, visit our eCALM room where you can view several, 10-minute Mindful Moment videos.
Make Time for Family
This can be a time of year where you don’t feel like you can catch your breath some days because pressures may be mounting at work, and you want to ensure you don’t forget about your own family’s traditions during this time. But, if you keep everything simple, you can enjoy decorating the house, baking cookies and pies, attending your spouse’s office party or sitting in front of the fire or TV wrapping gifts. Also, you could find new ways to create memories with your family, such as having game nights, putting together a holiday puzzle, looking at outdoor lights and decorations, going to the movies, or cooking meals together.
Whether you’re in the classroom teaching your same students for the entire day, you have multiple classes and multiple students throughout the day, or you work one-on-one with multiple students daily and weekly, these tips can help as you approach the end of fall semester and start the winter break.
Five Tips to Help with Holiday Stress Before the Winter Break
As December begins, take a moment to purposefully plan out your daily and weekly lessons and goals. Also, build in time to ensure you are able to grade student assignments and assessments, especially with the added duties and errands this time of year brings. If your school or district allows you the winter break to submit grades, you don’t want to take home that “huge pile” of student work to grade over the break, so plan to get as much done ahead of time, even if that means staying late a few nights or spending part of your weekend getting those grades in. If you have the time, and don’t want to feel rushed later, prep some of your January lessons before you leave for break.
As many students countdown the days to the holiday they are excited to celebrate and their long awaited winter break, some students may act out and some may be less focused. So, if possible, spend the next couple weeks assigning group work or projects and if you can, move your class(es) outside. Students have the opportunity to move freely as they engage in the lesson. In addition, if you can, save your best and most engaging lessons for the week before break. Or, you can get creative with lessons and cover your standards as well as including holiday themes.
Students still Need Routine
The holidays can bring interruptions into your normal instructional time such as assemblies, field trips, parties, or shortened schedules, but that doesn’t mean you have to change your daily class or therapy session routines. Be mindful of them, share with your students, but keep the same routines and structure in your room that you’ve had since the beginning of the year. Students need that routine.
Expectations are Important
Just like keeping to your daily routine, you want to do the same with your expectations. For a lot of students, holiday extras are a lot of fun, but you might have some students who will try to take advantage of the festive time to test your boundaries. Remind them of your classroom expectations and the school expectations that they have been following since the start of the year. Also, if you’re hosting a class party or providing a special holiday treat, remind them that these are privileges and you’re not required to do it.
Don’t Add to your Workload Stress or Your Students’ Stress
As the first semester quickly comes to an end, you might be tempted to add on extra assignments or additional tasks to an assignment, but resist the urge to do this. Remember, most of what you assign, will need to be graded. The last thing you want to do with the holidays approaching is spend your days leading up to your break or several days during your break grading student work. Also, you could plan assignments that are quick to grade, or have students complete quizzes or tests electronically that can be graded in real time.
Once your two-week break starts, it’s important to take advantage of the time and enjoy your time away from work and the classroom. Over your break, even though you may need to set aside a few days to grade or plan, first take the time to be alone and to enjoy your loved ones. This is a great way to reset and recharge before you prepare for the last half of the school year. So on your break, try one of these tips to help you get the rest you deserve.
Five Tips to Manage Stress during the Holiday Break
Ignore Work (just for a little while)
One of the most important things is to focus on yourself and your time with your family. Make a choice to not open your computer or look in your “teacher” bag and touch any work-related material for at least a week. Don’t grade work (if final grades are due later), don’t read emails and don’t plan any lessons. For anybody who works in education, we know this will be hard to do, we know you will want to do some work because teacher guilt is very real, but let yourself rest first.
Don’t over Commit
If you haven’t already done it, don’t start now. What we’re saying is don’t schedule multiple lunch dates with friends, get-togethers with various family members or doctor and dental appointments during this time off. While it might seem like the perfect time since you don’t have to worry about finding coverage at work, if you start to over schedule yourself, you’ll be just as busy over your break as you are during the school year. Also, remember that “no” is an acceptable answer. If you can’t make it to one of those brunch, lunch or dinner dates with friends or an after-holiday meal with family, it’s okay to say no.
Read a Book
Similar to the summer tips we shared in June, this still holds true today. Don’t read an educational journal or material related to your content. Find a novel, memoir, biography, or a book of poetry to give your mind a rest and a break from thinking about your students. When you read or listen to a book that you’ve been looking forward to finally cracking open, it gives you a reason to focus on just one thing.
Binge Watch Your Favorite Shows
Take a day, or maybe even two, to have a marathon of catching up on your favorite recorded show(s) you’ve been saving all fall or dive into a new show everyone you know has been raving about. Or maybe, you’ve been waiting weeks to indulge in a holiday movie marathon. No matter what you plan to binge watch, grab your favorite blanket, snacks and drink, and snuggle up on the couch with remote in hand.
Nourish Your Hobby
If you can devote several days to “you” time, why not focus on doing something you love. Whether it’s knitting, sewing, painting, drawing, scrapbooking, hiking, baking, cooking or other artistic pursuits, make it a priority, and set aside time to indulge in that hobby over the holiday break. When the spring semester begins, you’ll be glad that you made time for one of your favorite activities.
Anytime you feel irritable or depressed, headaches or tight muscles, or indigestion or fatigue, try some of these tips to get you through whatever is stressing you out. They can be followed year round. And remember to visit our eCALM room if you’re interested in expanding your meditation practice or want to begin your mediation journey.