Holiday stress impacts just about anyone, but especially for those on a strict budget or facing financial hardships.
The season, after all, is expensive. The average consumer expects to spend more than $1,000 during the 2018 holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.
It can be demoralizing. One study a few years ago found that 50 percent of Americans were concerned they didn’t have enough money to buy the gifts they’d like to give.
And, for those who can’t afford gifts or are overwhelmed by the busy rush that is the holidays, this time of year can simply be depressing.
But studies show that no matter what your wallet can afford, there’s one way to boost your holiday mood and combat holiday stress: And that’s shifting your focus from getting to gratitude.
What’s so great about gratitude? Science says it offers all kinds of benefits for our bodies and our minds.
Research shows, according to Robert A. Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis and an expert on the science of gratitude, that feeling grateful can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk for mental illness and even make for a better night’s sleep, among many other health benefits.
“Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness,” Emmons said in an article for UC Davis Medical Center. “It’s impossible to feel envious and grateful at the same time.”
Here are four ways to ease holiday stress and put a little more gratitude in your attitude:
Focus on the good
On the days when everybody around you seems so focused on luxuries you can’t afford -- taking time off work to see family at Thanksgiving or dashing to the store to get everything on their child’s Christmas wish list -- focusing on the good isn’t always easy. But now is the time to start looking for those moments.
Maybe it’s a quick chat with an old friend, a cozy snuggle with your child as you tuck her into bed or a satisfying dinner after a long day at work. At the end of the day, instead of thinking about everything that went wrong, think about the things that went right. Take a moment to be thankful for them.
Get off social media
Social media is a great way to keep in touch with distant friends and relatives, but it also can do a number on our mental health. One survey of Facebook and Twitter users found that 62 percent felt inadequate and 60 percent had feelings of jealousy as they compared their own lives to those of their online connections.
It’s hard to feel grateful for the little things when you see your high school friend’s pictures from her trip across Europe or the beautiful and sprawling interior of your cousin’s new home. So, take a break. Instead of spending hours scrolling through pictures of your connection’s best lives, look at what makes your own life great right now.
Keep a gratitude journal
Emmons, the gratitude expert, recommends keeping a daily journal to jot down all the good stuff. It might be a moment with a friend, recognition of a job well done or just a little thing you enjoyed during the day. It doesn’t even have to be every day, Emmons says.
“This can mean listing just five things for which you’re grateful every week,” Emmons writes in an article for the University of California at Berkeley. “This practice works, I think, because it consciously, intentionally focuses our attention on developing more grateful thinking and on eliminating ungrateful thoughts.”
Get your family on board
It’s hard to be grateful in a house full of unappreciative people, so get them on board. Talk together about the high points of the day around the dinner table. Require kids to say “thank you” at the appropriate time and write thank you notes after they’ve received a gift. An article on PBS.org also recommends that parents can instill gratitude in their kids by making giving and volunteering a habit, creating gratitude gift lists and simply serving as an example of somebody with a grateful mentality.
Being thankful for what you have now, of course, probably won’t mean more presents under the tree this year. But it could very well ease the holiday stress of the season and, if you keep up the grateful mindset, a healthier year to come.
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