They say it’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it doesn’t always feel that way during this busy shopping season. When it comes to long lines and crowded malls, holiday shopping can quickly turn to holiday stress and anger. There’s no need to avoid stores entirely—going out gives you the chance to smile at others and notice others’ well-being, which research shows can help you reduce your stress and elevate your mood (Stanford). These acts activate compassion, a powerful emotion that can ease tension and support your own emotional and physical well-being (Super Better).
For a less-stress holiday shopping experience, follow these tips to keep calm and shop on.
Pick the Best Time to Go
As the holidays draws nearer, stores inevitably become more crowded. If possible, go shopping on a weekday or weeknight, when stores tend to be a little less packed with people than on weekends. If your schedule permits, opt to shop during daylight hours. Whether you’ll be walking outside to get from store to store or spending time in a mall with lots of natural light, you can reap the benefits of natural light. Research indicates that sunlight might increase the amount of serotonin released in the brain, which can help you feel calm and can improve your mood (Healthline). (Remember to wear sunscreen if you plan to be outside for more than 15 minutes.)
If you’re in a particularly gloomy mood, determine whether or not you’re in the best of spirits to make a shopping trip. If you decide that you do need to go shopping, before leaving home, spend 15 minutes alone without distraction to read a book or listen to soothing music. If you’re feeling isolated or lonely, seek out the companionship of a loved one to help lift your spirits (Mayo Clinic).
Before you leave home to go shopping, have an idea of want to buy and what you want to spend so you don’t waste time figuring out what to buy when you’re in a crowded store, or become frustrated when the item you want to buy costs too much. Remember to read the fine print on any coupons you plan to use so you won’t be disappointed when you’ve finally reached the cash register only to find out that your coupon expired two days ago.
Eating a healthy breakfast or lunch is also a smart thing to do before heading out for a shopping trip. You won’t feel as compelled to eat unhealthy mall food if you already feel full, and you won’t have to deal with the stress and anxiety of waiting in line for food. It’s especially important to remember to eat if you plan on using coffee or soda to energize yourself for your trip. Consuming caffeine on an empty stomach can cause your blood sugar levels to spike, which could make you irritable (Health).
Park Away from the Store
Store parking lots can get crowded during the holidays. Avoid some of the stress of traffic congestion and competition for desirable spots by parking farther away from the store. The longer walk from your car to the store will help boost your mood. According to SuperBetter, five minutes a day of outdoor activity can improve your mood and increase your energy as much as an hour of exercise.
Be Patient, Mindful, and Courteous
It’s easy to get frustrated by long lines, but when shopping during the holidays, they’re usually unavoidable. Remembering this can help you be more patient as you wait in line. You might also want to practice some mindfulness activities while you wait; this can help you stay calm by helping you avoid thinking about all the things you still need to accomplish. While in line, spot a nearby, neutral object—one that is not emotionally charged or intellectually interesting—and focus your attention on it. Instead of trying to force your thoughts on the object, allow whatever thoughts you have to enter and leave your mind without dwelling on them. If you lose focus on the object, allow yourself to gently refocus your attention on that object. Allowing yourself to be in a given moment and accepting that moment as it is, without focusing on the past or the future, will help you feel more calm (Williams et al, 2007).
In addition to practicing mindfulness, remember to be polite and courteous to any store employees you encounter. If you interact with a cranky employee, don’t let that person’s attitude dampen your own spirit. He or she might be stressed or tired from dealing with rude or overly demanding customers. Accepting people as they are and not taking someone else’s attitude personally is one of the most important skills in learning to reduce stress (WebMD).
During a long day of shopping, remember to break up your time by doing small things to take care of yourself. Take a moment to sit down, step outside to get some fresh air, treat yourself to a small gift, or eat something nourishing. If there’s a candle or lotion store near where you’re shopping, stop by one of them to get a whiff of some citrus. Studies have shown that smelling orange or lemon scents can reduce stress (Health). If your shopping trip won’t be taking you near these sorts of stores, Health Magazine suggests dabbing orange or lemon essential oil on a handkerchief and taking it with you to smell on the go.
Remember What it’s All About
Don’t let holiday shopping stress hurt your health and well-being or ruin your holiday. According to WebMD, people who focus more on gifts tend to feel less holiday cheer than those who focus more on spending time with family and friends (WebMD). So while you may feel pressured to have a “perfect” holiday by buying gifts that will knock your loved ones’ socks off, remember that this December season isn’t about perfection. It’s about connecting with loved ones, showing them that you care, and enjoying their company. Remembering to accept people and situations as they are, in the present moment—not only at the mall but also during other holiday activities—will help you have a calmer, more relaxing holiday season.
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Featured image by Eric Mueller on Flickr used under Creative Commons license.