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Embracing minimalism to help with holiday stress

Family gathered around a tree with lights, child placing star on tree
Embrace minimalism during the holidays to reduce stress and anxiety.

With just one week to go until Christmas, the pressure to have a ‘perfect’ Christmas is at its peak. And while it may seem as if everyone else is having a fabulous time getting into the season of joy, at least according to Instagram, St. Paul’s Hospital clinical psychologist Dr. Quincy-Robyn Young say that is not reality.

head shot of Dr. Quincy-Robyn Young
Dr. Quincy-Robyn Young, clinical psychologist at St. Paul’s Hospital

The psychologist with the Heart Transplant and Heart Function clinics says social media is making people feel even more alone. We are inundated with messages about being the perfect host or buying the perfect gift. “A lot of those expectations are hard to live up to. It’s even more heightened if there are financial pressures or health issues,” she explains.

Illness adds even more stress at Christmas

For people who are sick, the usual trappings of Christmas can be physically exhausting too. People who are in the hospital or facing extreme health issues, such as heart failure, often feel isolated.

Dr. Young firmly believes adopting a minimalist approach to the holidays can help people focus on what’s most important. “It allows you to step back from all those messages that inundate us at this time of year, and it helps with the financial pressure.”

Woman at computer with head in her hands
Christmas can be a time of stress and anxiety for many people, especially those who are dealing with illness.

In a recent survey of Canadian millennials, nearly half said they feel “immense personal stress” leading up to and throughout the holidays. More than a third expect to go into debt during the 2019 holiday season.

Gifts don’t bring happiness

“Connection and those social bonds that hold us together are what matters,” the psychologist explains. “That is what makes for a meaningful and satisfying life. No one on their deathbed bemoans they never got that comforter or sweater.”

Pile of wrapped Christmas presents
St. Paul’s Hospital psychologist says “stuff” does not make us happy.

Not all families will embrace the idea of a new, minimalist approach to Christmas, especially at first. But it doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” approach. Studies consistently show activities are more meaningful than more ‘stuff’. Dr. Young suggests spending time together with a loved one, or perhaps donating to a charity that means something to that person. She likes to encourage her patients to come up with activities that help people connect, such as a fun board game.

Free ways to boost happiness

Here are four other things Dr. Young says have been shown to bring happiness. The best part is they don’t have to cost anything:

  • Being grateful; expressing gratitude
  • Mindfully engaging in activities that bring you joy
  • Volunteering
  • Making a difference in someone’s life.

No one wants to be in the hospital during the holidays, but Dr. Young says her patients have shown her there is value and meaning in their medical journeys too. “When you only have one per cent of the energy as a healthy person, you have to pick and choose your priorities. You don’t have the energy to ‘sweat the small stuff’ and it clarifies what’s really important.”

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