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5 Hacks for Coping With Holiday Stress: A Survival Guide

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or, is it?

Hustling through holiday stress is almost guaranteed once we hit a certain age, because we tend to forgo the magic of the season and instead worry about, well, everything. How many people do I need to buy gifts for? Do I really want to travel this year? How much do I need to cook? The list goes on.

It’s time to take back the magic and focus on the true spirit of the season. With a little planning, you can create your own personalized, holiday stress survival guide using a few simple tips we picked up from the poker table.

Here are our top 5 hacks to keep your stress in check and your mind in good cheer.

Hack #1: This year, decide to go all-in on joy

In case you forgot, the holidays are supposed to be about joy, not stress. If you find yourself getting anxious, you’re missing out on the true spirit of the season. You need to make a plan to go all-in on joy. 

What does a perfect holiday feel like for you? We all have grandiose ideas of what a perfect holiday looks like, with elaborately wrapped gifts and Instagram-worthy tablescapes. But what would a truly joyful season feel like for you? Take a few minutes to really think about it and write it down.

If you want to feel peaceful, you could skip the travel this year and enjoy a cozy holiday at home. Want to feel connected to your loved ones? Have your holiday meal catered, so you can actually relax and sit down and talk to people instead of being exhausted from marathon cooking. Ready to share in the gratitude? Volunteer at your local food bank. Whatever it is, you deserve to experience joy!

There are always family obligations you need to consider, but you shouldn’t forget yourself in the process. After all, we get a limited amount of holidays in this lifetime. Make the most of them.

Hack #2: Determine your budget, and don’t go over it

The biggest source of holiday stress for most is how much money they intend to spend to deck the halls. With inflation on the rise and increasingly worrisome supply-chain issues, those boughs of holly are going to cost more this year. Avoiding financial stressors can be simple if you have a plan.

In poker, your bankroll is the amount of money you bring to the table. To truly enjoy the game, your bankroll has to be something you’re comfortable losing. It shouldn’t be your mortgage payment or your grocery budget for the entire month. Same goes for your holiday spending. 

Determine now how much money you can comfortably spend during the holidays without going into debt, and then stick to your budget. Your holiday spending plan should include everything from gifts and decorations to meals and travel. Create a spreadsheet to keep track of your spending. Monitoring this will not only reduce your financial anxiety for the season, it will also ensure your new year is debt-free. 

Hack #3: Decide if a full house is really your best hand

If you do decide to travel home for the holidays, plan your accommodations carefully. Sometimes a full house is not your best bet.

Maybe you love being in your childhood home and staying in your old bedroom. But for some, being in the house they grew up in or around certain family members for an extended period of time can be emotionally triggering. If that’s the case, you might want to consider staying in a hotel.

Booking a room at a hotel is not only good for your sanity, it’s also good for your town’s local economy. Plus, if your family members take offense to your hotel stay, you can explain that part of your “joy” is supporting as many local businesses as possible. It will be hard for them to argue with that. 

Knowing you have a place to retreat to if things get uncomfortable around the dinner table can reduce a lot of your holiday anxiety about going home.

Hack #4: Get your poker face ready

Having a good poker face is all about emotional control. The key to coping with holiday stress is to keep your emotions in check. You can’t control what other people say or do, but you can control how you react. Nobody can ruin your holiday unless you choose to let them. 

Put your best holiday poker face on and refuse to let Uncle Leo goad you into a political debate. Change the subject or leave the room. When your aunt asks why you’re not married yet, just smile at her and tell her how happy you are to see her. You might be bluffing, but you’re also refusing to entertain her. Don’t be afraid to check someone who makes you uncomfortable with inappropriate conversation. 

Other people’s opinions of you, your beliefs, and your lifestyle is none of your business. It’s all about them and their insecurities. See it for what it is and don’t take it personally. Practice emotional control, and you’ll end up winning the game.

Hack #5: Know when it’s time to fold

“Four Christmases” is an interesting spin on the classic holiday movie. The lead couple, played by Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughan, come up with a code word they use if the situations at their family homes become too much, which of course, they do. Their code word is “mistletoe.”

When coping with holiday stress, no matter how much you prepare for a stress-free holiday, sometimes things just don’t go as planned. Some traditions, like your mother-in-law narrating how much food you put on your plate like an NFL announcer, won’t go away. You might have to cut your losses and walk away from the table. 

Setting clear boundaries is a surefire holiday stress reliever, and if your family refuses to respect those boundaries, find your holiday joy elsewhere. You’ll cope better with stressors knowing you can remove yourself from the chaos if you need to. Mistletoe.

Coping with holiday stress starts by preventing as much of it as possible through preparation. Decide how you want to spend your time, your money, and your sanity. Remember to focus on the real meaning of the season. Don’t let anyone steal your joy.

Want more tips on improving your emotional control and dealing with stress? Sign up for our free online poker classes and learn how to play poker.

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