Let's face it. Some holiday-related stress is to be expected. Turkeys will be burned. Flights will be canceled. How you react to it determines how the holiday will be remembered. And the pressure hits some people harder than others.
So how can you become one of those people who chuckles at adversity—silly snowstorm!—instead of crying into your eggnog? Here are nine signs you could be headed for a holiday meltdown, and how to stop the implosion before it happens.
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You have super-high expectations
If you tend to feel stress year-round because you're not meeting the expectations you've set for yourself, the holidays are likely to amplify these feelings. Sometimes expectations are so unrealistic they simply can't be fulfilled.
What you should do: Focus on what is realistic—not ideal—or you risk facing major disappointment when things don't go as planned. Perfectionists must remember that preparing for a holiday is not a one-person task; reaching out to a support system to delegate tasks can really lighten the load.
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You tend to overbook
Chances are, the holiday invitations are hitting your inbox and mailbox. Between the office party, family commitments, and one-day sales, you can be stretched—too thin. Packing your calendar with obligations means sacrificing time usually spent on other activities. Sleep and exercise—important stress relievers—could be the first to go.
What you should do: Get ready to say no to some things. Start to prioritize chores, decline some invitations, and schedule time to do holiday activities you enjoy, instead of just those you feel you have to do.
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You have family friction
If you have overbearing parents or passive-aggressive siblings, the holidays can amplify trouble in already strained relationships. Tension can escalate, especially if you are spending longer periods of time with family than you are used to or staying with or hosting family members.
What you should do: The best thing you can do? Manage your expectations. Be sure to take time for yourself, even if you are hosting visitors.
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You cut back on sleep to get everything done
You're up at the crack of dawn to rush to the best sales and then stay up late to wrap gifts or clink glasses at parties. But the holidays shouldn't mean kissing your good night's sleep good-bye.
What you should do: Skimping on sleep can leave you grumpy and stressed, throw off your diet, and increase your risk of colds, depression, and car accidents. Make a good night's sleep a priority.
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You tend to drink more when stressed
Sometimes a glass of red wine is the perfect antidote to a long, stressful day, but excessive drinking can spell trouble. Because alcohol is a depressant, overindulging could make you more emotional, leaving you more open to a major meltdown.
What you should do: Experts recommended limiting your alcohol intake to one or two drinks a day. Sure, that can be tough when faced with a mandatory office party, but if you can't stick to your limit, do yourself a favor by ducking out of the party early.
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Your clothes are feeling tight already
Before you know it, the leftover turkey sandwiches, Christmas sugar cookies, and afterwork cocktails can really add up. Studies have shown that many people gain a couple of pounds over the holidays and can become part of a vicious cycle: Holiday eating is stressing you out and the holiday stress is making you eat.
What you should do: Enjoy holiday meals guilt-free by planning ahead for the splurge. That way you can indulge smartly without derailing your diet.
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You're strapped for cash
If a change in your work life or finances is a dark cloud hanging on the holiday horizon, you're not alone. Even before the economy bottomed out, Americans said financial pressures caused holiday stress.
What you should do: Although it's tough, now is the time of year to ask for help if you need it. From meals to toys for your kids, religious groups and other charitable organizations are there to help you.
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You're struggling with depression or another health problem.
The holidays can be particularly trying for people with depression and other mental illnesses. Feeling depressed at this time of year "can be particularly hard because we're expected to be happy," says Stephanie S. Smith, PsyD, psychologist at Front Range Psychological Associates.
What you should do: Being open and honest about your emotions ahead of time will take some of the pressure off of staying cheery. Talk with family members before the holidays and decide which traditions work best for you.
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You're married to tradition
Traditions are one of the sweetest parts of the holidays. But, sorry—sometimes plans change.
What you should do: Treasure your traditions, but be open to new ones. Sometimes the holidays don't look exactly as we remember them or how we think they should look—or taste. Take a look at how your life has changed in the past year. Be flexible and willing to compromise—holidays are about more than what you eat and where you eat it, or about a gift's price point.