It’s an unfortunate reality: what is supposed to be the happiest time of year can also end up being the most stressful. Stress is commonly reported around the holidays and affects women more than men. It’s another time where it feels like we’re expected to do all the things.
Stress can affect us mentally and physically, including causing symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, stomach upset, and muscle tension. Rates of heart attack also peak in December and January. Sress can be serious business.
Too many of us have a story we can recount about how we crippled under the pressure of the holidays. Can you recall a time when you collapsed exhausted from preparing a holiday meal or from a day of holiday shopping?
My husband and I tend to have some of our biggest arguments around the holidays. Some of us might snap at our kids or even the poor dog. These unfortunate instances are all related to holiday stress.
The tips for holiday stress management in this article are designed to help you enjoy your holidays and stave off the negative mental and physical effects of stress.
Tips are based on personal experience and should not be considered medical advice. Full disclaimer.
Why Are the Holidays So Stressful?
It seems counterintuitive that the supposed most joyous time of year can be fraught with so much stress. What gives?
There are multiple factors that contribute, such as:
- Financial strain
- Family conflicts
- Temptations with food and alcohol
- Lack of time
- Pressure to give gifts
- Hosting and increased household responsibilities
Can you relate to these? As an introvert, the social gatherings alone between November and January are enough to have me wishing I could go into hiding.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to make the holidays more manageable and enjoyable.
Tips for Holiday Stress Management
These tips for holiday stress management are designed for anyone who desires a calmer holiday season. I hope you’ll find several strategies you can implement to preserve your well-being during these busy times.
1. Mitigate Family Stressors
Sure, family is a big part of holiday enjoyment, but there can also be too much of a good thing. Surprise, the in-laws are coming to stay at your house for a whole week!
You don’t get to choose your family, and sometimes family members just don’t get along. That doesn’t mean you have to let it ruin your holidays.
Plan ahead to reduce times of family stress. While it might feel expected that you spend time with certain family members, you can try to minimize or even eliminate those visits. It’s OK to prioritize your mental health, and you should get to enjoy your holidays.
Maybe you alternate years or holidays for visiting certain family members. Or you make an appearance but have to rush off to another event. (It’s always great to have an escape plan.)
Hosting can come with added pressure. If you’re not up for it, you could try, “Sorry, we’re not able to host guests this year.” Just because it’s expected doesn’t mean you have to comply.
If you do host, know yourself and the amount of time it will take before your guests start to grade on you. Try to limit stays to that length, and make sure to take lots of breaks for yourself.
Some people even go away to remote locations for the holidays to avoid all of this. You could also elect to spend your holidays visiting friends (your chosen family).
If seeing certain family members over the holidays fills you with a sense of dread, it might be time to try something different.
2. Slow Down
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can become exhausting. It can feel like trying to check off a never-ending to-do list.
All of the constant go, go, go can rob you of the joy of the season. I beg you: just stop for a moment and try to enjoy yourself.
Be present in an activity you want to experience. Spend actual quality time with those you love. This means you might need to say “no” to some other things so you can truly enjoy your time.
During the holiday season, there are so many different activities that might seem like fun. However, overfilling your plate, even with positive activities, can end up leave you stressed.
Try to strike a balance and make sure you have enough downtime.
I know it can feel like there’s pressure to make all these memories. But really, some of the best memories can come in those quiet moments—like snuggling with your child on Christmas morning even though you could be cleaning up dishes from brunch.
So, if you find yourself frenzied rushing from one place to another, barely able to quiet your mind or catch your breath, take a break. Just slow down for a bit. Your body will thank you.
3. Remember To Be Grateful
Gratitude isn’t just for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Practicing gratitude can really change your perspective. It’s akin to saying, “remember the reason for the season.”
Amidst all the gift buying, meal preparing, and traveling, stressors can start to cloud all of our blessings. Pause and take an opportunity to remind yourself of what you have to be thankful for.
You can try to notice little things throughout your days, or you can take some time at the beginning or end of your day to sit down and reflect.
You could even write letters of gratitude to some deserving people in your life.
Researchers have found that being more grateful may help protect against burnout, counteract materialism, and improve overall well-being. It’s pretty powerful stuff.
What better time to practice gratitude than the holidays? Expressing gratitude will help push negative thoughts out and focus on the positive. Even during difficult times, you’ll be surprised at how much you find to be grateful for.
So, make your holidays a season of gratitude and try to carry the practice into the new year.
4. Lower Your Own Standards
This might just be my favorite of the tips for holiday stress management. Please hear me: you don’t have to do all the things.
You know what? The past 2 years, I haven’t sent out Christmas cards. It started when I had my youngest child—I figured a baby was a good excuse. I certainly had my hands full. Fancy printed photo cards also weren’t really in our budget.
So, I just didn’t send them. The sky didn’t fall. None of our family called in outrage.
It was a little step that helped relieve quite a bit of stress. Maybe one day I’ll have the ability to send them out again, but until then, I refuse to feel guilty about it.
You could even start by whittling down your Christmas card list to those most important to you.
I have friends who don’t wrap the presents from Santa. These are just a couple of examples.
The reality is we often don’t have enough time to accomplish all the things we think we should. For your own well-being, consider trimming that to-do list.
Also, it’s important to realize that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. The holidays tend to be a time when we hold ourselves to near-impossible standards.
The house has to be immaculate, every gift has to be perfect, and the family meal must be expertly cooked. You’re only setting yourself up for disappointment or burnout if you hold the bar for yourself impossibly high.
The holidays are special times, but they shouldn’t make you crazy with trying to attain perfection. Your health and sanity are more important.
If your previous holidays have been stressful, consider making a change this year. See if you can give yourself permission to let some things go or lower your own standards.
5. Stay Organized
An up-to-date calendar might just be your best friend during the holiday season. Remember how I said there’s not enough time to accomplish everything on your holiday to-do list? Scheduling out your time can help make this apparent so you can adjust as needed.
You should also make sure you’re scheduling downtime and time for self-care (more on this later).
Staying organized with lists or whatever system you prefer can help avoid a last-minute frenzy right before a holiday. You don’t want to run out of butter as you’re cooking the Thanksgiving turkey. Or realize you’re out of tape as you frantically wrap presents on Christmas eve.
Planning ahead and staying organized makes things less stressful. I know some of us come by this more naturally than others, but it really can help during the holidays.
One of the things I find especially useful is a system for tracking Christmas gift ideas and purchases. You can grab a copy of my free Trello board template that I created for this.
It helps me ensure I’ve received all the gifts I ordered online. I also use it as a check when wrapping to make sure I haven’t forgotten a gift that I hid somewhere deep in the closet. Finally, it helps me stay on track with my budget because I list the cost of each gift.
There’s nothing like trying to make sure 4 kids have a similar amount of presents while staying under budget.
If you have an organizational system that helps you during the holidays, I’d love to hear it!
Use what works best for you—anything to help relieve some pressure from your overstuffed brain during this busy time.
6. Don’t Neglect Self-Care
It’s easy to neglect self-care during the holidays in favor of completing other tasks. However, that can put you on a path to exhaustion.
To maintain balance, ensure you are making time for much-needed rejuvenation. You can do this by making a point to be intentional about your self-care. Try to create a habit and stick to it.
Whether it’s journaling, exercise, or having a quiet moment with a cup of tea, try fitting an activity into each day that is devoted to nurturing your well-being.
Once or twice a week, maybe you can fit in a longer self-care activity like a relaxing bath, a nature hike, or coffee with a friend. Don’t forget to schedule it and then follow through.
Self-care should be personalized and something you look forward to. And don’t worry, it can be completely free.
Read more on how to stop neglecting self-care.
7. Ask for Help
News flash: you don’t have to do it all yourself! As women, we often take on the bulk of the holiday responsibilities.
I know in my house, I do the vast majority of the gift buying. I enjoy it, but it can be a big effort for our large family.
Knowing you have a lot on your plate, is there something you can delegate to make your holidays a little easier?
Some families have potluck-style holiday meals to avoid one person from shouldering the responsibility of preparing food for everyone. Many guests even enjoy bringing a special dish to share.
Sometimes our partners or kids would be happy to help if we just asked. This will mean letting go of some control, but it will be worth it.
If you’re able, you could even get outside help with tasks like wrapping gifts, cooking, or cleaning.
Just remember, it doesn’t hurt to ask for help. Lending a hand is part of the holiday spirit after all.
8. Practice Moderation
The holidays are frequently a time of excess. Americans on average rack up over $1,000 in debt on holiday spending. That can take months or even years to pay off.
Financial pressures can hit parents particularly hard. Over half of parents in one survey said they felt pressure to spend more money than they should during the holidays.
Spending money that you don’t have can cause great stress—if not in the moment then sometime after the purchase when reality hits. That’s why, as difficult as it may be, sticking to your holiday spending budget will benefit you.
Start by setting a reasonable holiday spending budget that will not stretch you beyond your means. Next, make sure you keep track of purchases compared with your budget. Don’t give in to temptation to overspend.
Repeat to yourself: I have the power to stick to my budget.
If the gifts you can afford aren’t up to your expectations, just remember all the other great things about the holidays that aren’t material gifts. You could even consider having a minimalist Christmas.
Aside from overspending, overindulging in decadent foods and alcohol are common during the holidays. The constant temptations and feelings of regret from overindulging can lead to holiday stress.
Try to remember to consume in moderation. Though it’s fine to enjoy some treats without guilt, you’ll feel better if you are able to control your indulgences.
When you need strength in the moment, repeat: I am able to make good decisions for my body.
Your January self will thank you for being intentional with your choices, and you’ll have less worries throughout the holidays.
I really hope you find these tips for holiday stress management useful. I certainly don’t want you experiencing the holidays as a cranky, stressed ball of tension, and neither do your friends or family.
Has holiday stress tainted any of your previous holidays? Which of the tips for holiday stress management do you plan to try this year?
Try to think through some of your biggest holiday stressors in the past and start there.
While some amount of stress during busy times is normal and could even be positive, too much can start to affect you negatively. Head off holiday stress before it takes over by using your arsenal of stress management strategies.
Need more stress relief in your life? Check out 11 stress relief tools backed by science.
Wishing you a most joyful holiday season.