Ways to reduce stress during the holidays

A family laughs while having dinner together at home.

It’s never too late to have a holiday season with a little more personal peace. Start by identifying things that stress you out.

Make a list—of holiday stressors

A healthy holiday season starts with your expectations. Are your plans realistic? Make a list—not of what to buy, or make, or do, or whom to invite for dinner—but of what you expect from yourself and your family this season. From there, you can break things down into potential sources of stress.

Let’s say one of your list items is “Holiday Dinner.” What does this mean to you? Do you feel compelled to turn your table into a cooking-magazine feature spread, with made-from-scratch versions of dishes you’ve only seen on TV?

Maybe you should ask yourself how much joy you get in return from this investment. Would you and your loved ones be just as, or even more so, content with simpler foods and more quality time at the table? Wouldn’t your loved ones prefer this over watching you spend 2 days in the kitchen? Why not ask them and find out?

Other common stressors

The quest for the “perfect” gift

Too often we drive ourselves crazy looking for the ideal gift, thinking it’ll somehow magically transform the recipient’s life (or our status in it). And all along, the “giftee” probably knows exactly what he or she would like as a gift—but do we ask? No, we rely on our psychic powers, and often this does not turn out well. If you haven’t finished shopping yet, try asking people what they want as gifts, and then work from there. And if you have finished shopping? Make a mental note to see if next year is an opportunity to do things differently.

Budget

Food, gifts, decorations, cards, mailing costs: it’s so easy to spend too much. In fact, money worries are near the top of the list of holiday stressors.1 It really pays to take a hard look at how much you can spend and then stick to that number. You’ll be amazed at the peace an on-budget holiday can bring. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably already spent enough this season—do yourself a favor and stop now!

Communication

Miscommunication about schedules, visit times/lengths and availability are common recipes for holiday unhappiness. It’s important to let your family and friends know what you’re doing and to know what their expectations are, too. Do it sooner rather than later, and work toward a happy compromise from there. Also, don’t overschedule or overcommit yourself. Plan breaks in the action to rest and recover. You can see loved ones in the weeks before or after the holidays instead of in the thick of things—and probably enjoy yourselves just as much, if not more. Finally, be sure to keep others aware of your schedule and social demands. If you want your spouse or friend to attend the office holiday party, give plenty of warning. This way, you don’t just hope for warm and loving holidays—by asking for what you want and avoiding situations that create resentment, you can work with others to achieve them.

Diet

The holidays are a huge opportunity to overeat. But do they really have to be? Consider eating what you want but in moderation. You don’t need 3 huge helpings when smaller portions might be just fine. The leftovers will take care of themselves! If you do decide to go for another serving, try a 10-minute walk beforehand.

Cooking

Cooking and freezing holiday food in advance, even over several weeks, is proven to be a big help for many people. Others find sanity in replacing some “from scratch” recipes or ingredients with prepared foods. And don’t be afraid to ask others to bring a dish (be sure to ask early). There’s no need to do it all on your own. Finally, if you’re planning to try a new recipe, do a “practice run” or two before the big event.

Perspective

When people are tired, hungry, overcommitted or overwhelmed, things can get out of hand. If you find yourself in such a situation, step back, take a breath and take the long view. Then take a little time for yourself to recover and regain your balance. Ask yourself what winning is worth, and then move on.

Not taking care of yourself

The most important gift you can give is your love and attention. When you’re tired, hungry or worried about time and money, that can’t happen. So be sure to stick to your sleep, exercise and other healthy routines as much as possible. Being rested and feeling like yourself are the best ways to be truly “present” during the holidays and to enjoy them as best you can.2

A relaxed, stress-free holiday when you can simply rejoice in each other's company—to us, that sounds like a truly great gift. We hope these tips help you give yourself such a gift, too!

Sources:

  1. “Holiday Stress,” American Psychological Association, last accessed Nov. 10, 2019, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/holiday-stress.pdf, opens new window.
  2. “Stress, Depression and the Holidays: Tips for Coping,” Mayo Clinic, last accessed Nov. 10, 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544, opens new window.