Close up of Christmas baubles

Holiday Stress: What It Is And 12 Effective Ways to Enjoy the Season

‘Tis the season to be jolly…or is it?

The holiday season, often portrayed as a time of joy and cheer, can also bring about increased stress, anxiety, and low mood.

The hustle and bustle of gift shopping, navigating crowded spaces, and managing family gatherings can quickly turn into potential stressors.

It’s important to remember that it’s perfectly okay to experience a range of emotions during this time. Here are 12 scientifically-backed strategies to help you manage and reduce holiday stress.

Understanding Holiday Stress

holiday stress - woman looking stressed surrounded by gift wrapping materials

There are a lot of expectations about what the holidays should be.

The flawless turkey, the beautifully set table, playing the perfect host, hunting for the ideal gifts, and trying to keep everyone in the family happy – it’s a lot, isn’t it?

Just thinking about it can make your head spin. This pressure to make everything perfect is what we call holiday stress.

And guess what? You’re not alone in this. A study back in 2015 found that a whopping 62% of people felt ‘very’ stressed during the holiday season. And with the pandemic adding to our worries, these feelings have only intensified.

So, let’s dive into some strategies to help you navigate this holiday stress.

1. It’s Okay to Prioritise What You Want

Hey, it’s your holiday too, right? So why not do what you want to do?

We often get so caught up in the “shoulds” of the holiday season that we forget to do the things we genuinely enjoy.

Remember, it’s supposed to be a holiday, not a chore.

So, go ahead and watch that holiday movie marathon or bake those cookies just because you love them.

Balancing traditions with your desires can make the holiday season more enjoyable and less stressful.

2. Validate Your Emotions 

The holiday season can be an emotional roller coaster, and that’s okay.

You might feel joy, sadness, grief, or loneliness, and it’s important to acknowledge these feelings rather than push them aside.

Ignoring them won’t make them go away; in fact, it might make them stronger. So, take a moment to check in with yourself.

How are you really feeling? Mindfulness meditation can be a great tool to help you stay connected with your emotions and maintain a sense of calm amidst the holiday chaos.

3. Manage Family Differences

Let’s face it, family gatherings can be stressful.

Everyone has different opinions and sometimes, those differences can lead to tension. But remember, the holiday season is about togetherness and love. So, for the time being, try to set aside those differences.

There will be plenty of time to discuss them later in a more appropriate setting. Avoiding confrontations during family gatherings can help keep the peace and make the holidays more enjoyable for everyone.

holiday stress - family having holiday dinner

4. Limit Your Time on Social Media

Social media can be a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, it’s a great way to stay connected with friends and family. On the other hand, it can also create unrealistic expectations and comparisons.

Remember, what you see on social media is often a highlight reel, not the full picture.

So, instead of scrolling through your feed and comparing your holiday to others, why not swap out some of that screen time with a calming meditation podcast? It’s a great way to reduce stress and stay grounded during the holiday season.

5. Set Realistic Expectations

We all want the holidays to be perfect, but let’s be honest, perfection is a pretty high bar.

Trying to do too much or meet unrealistic expectations can lead to stress and disappointment.

So, be kind to yourself. It’s okay if the turkey is a little dry or if the gifts aren’t perfectly wrapped.

What matters most is the love and joy shared during the season. So, set realistic expectations and remember, it’s the simple moments that often become the most cherished memories.

6. Maintain Healthy Habits

The holiday season can be a whirlwind of activities and indulgences. But in all the festivities, it’s important to maintain healthy habits.

Make sure to get enough sleep, stay active, eat a balanced diet, meditate, and take time for relaxation and self-care.

It’s okay to enjoy the holiday treats, but balance is key. Staying healthy can help you manage stress and enjoy the holiday season to the fullest.

7. Identify Your Priorities

Sometimes a problem on paper is easy to deal with than a problem in the head.

The holiday season can be filled with commitments, from work parties to family gatherings.

It can be overwhelming to juggle all these expectations. So, why not make a list? Write down all your commitments and expectations, and then choose the ones that are most important to you. This can help you manage your time and energy better, and reduce stress.

You may want to place the list somewhere you’ll be able to see it regularly, like your fridge or bathroom mirror.

Accept the idea that you don’t have to do everything, and everything doesn’t have to be done all at once. Eliminate stress when you can and learn how to say no.

Learning to say no to additional or unnecessary tasks and responsibilities can help decrease anxiety-provoking situations.

Holiday Stress - man wearing an elf jumper looking fed up

8. Establish Boundaries

The holiday season is a time of giving, but it’s also important to give to yourself.

This means setting boundaries and not overcommitting your time and energy. If you’ve made your list from the previous point, you’ve got a clear idea of what’s important to you.

Stick to these commitments and don’t be afraid to say no if something doesn’t align with them. Remember, it’s okay to put your needs first. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

9. Leverage Your Support System

Despite all the social activities during the holidays, it can sometimes feel a bit lonely.

If you’re feeling this way, remember, you’re not alone. Reach out to your support system – friends, family, or community groups.

They can provide companionship, understanding, and even practical help.

And don’t forget, helping others can also make you feel good. So, consider volunteering or doing something kind for someone else. It’s a win-win!

10. Spend Time Outdoors

Yes, it might be chilly outside, but a little fresh air can do wonders for your mood.

A short walk can boost your serotonin levels and help fight against seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Plus, the rhythmic nature of walking can have a calming effect, reducing anxiety and improving sleep quality. S

o, bundle up, get outside, and enjoy the beauty of the season. You might find it’s one of the best gifts you can give yourself.

Holiday Stress - woman picking up champagne glass from the floor

11. Make Small Changes

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. Small changes to your routine can help you unwind and reduce stress.

Maybe it’s taking a few minutes each day to read, listen to your favorite music, or enjoy a cup of hot cocoa.

These small moments of joy can add up and help bring the magic back to the holiday season.

12. Take Charge of the Holidays

Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take proactive steps to manage stress and enjoy the season.

Identify your personal holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or family dynamics, and come up with a plan to address them.

With a bit of planning and a positive outlook, you can find peace and joy during the holiday season. Remember, you’re in control of your holiday experience.

The Silver Lining With Holiday Stress

One advantage of holiday stress is its predictability – it happens at the same time every year. Unlike other stresses that we can’t plan for, we can prepare for the holidays.

Holiday Stress - Woman wearing gloves holding a cup of coco

Preparing for Holiday Stress

Preparation kills panic. Not sure where I heard that but here are some tips that can make the holiday season easier.

  • Plan ahead – Get a nice cup of pumpkin spice latte, a notebook/app, and just brain-dump all the things you need to prep for the holidays. Then pick out anything you can do in advance.
  • Get cards early – surprisingly seasonal cards can be found all year round (and usually a lot cheaper in the off-season) Write your cards well in advance and have them ready to stamp a post.
  • Food prep and take shortcuts –  my family thinks that I make the best homemade Yorkshire puddings, but I actually buy the best Yorkshire puddings, and they are frozen. Things like snacks and frozen food can be gradually shopped for and take the pressure of running around and fighting in the grocery stores during the holidays.
  • Set an expectation – pick who you plan to be with during the holidays and graciously apologize to others.
  • Set a budget – agree to how much you want to spend, then start putting money aside so you’re not struggling with the biggest shop of the year.
  • Put a rest day in the calendar – If you’re super organized, you can plan in a calendar what you need to do, but make sure you pick a day to break it up and have a little rest.

The Takeaway

Looking after yourself isn’t selfish; it’s necessary. The pressure to be in high spirits for everyone can take a toll on our well-being.

Remember, taking care of yourself means you can better be there for others. Hopefully, this post can help you navigate the holidays with less stress. Let me know if you have any other suggestions in the comments.

Hopefully, this post can help you feel better during the holidays. Let me know if you have any other suggestions in the comments.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be construed as professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms of any mental health condition, we strongly advise consulting with a qualified healthcare professional.


The holidays can feel stressful due to a variety of factors. These include high expectations for the season, such as hosting perfect gatherings, buying the ideal gifts, and maintaining harmony within the family. Additionally, the increased demands on our time and finances, coupled with the disruption of our regular routines, can contribute to the stress. It’s also a time when we may feel the absence of loved ones more acutely, leading to feelings of grief or loneliness.

Dealing with holiday anxiety involves a combination of strategies. First, it’s important to set realistic expectations for the season and understand that it’s okay if everything isn’t perfect. Prioritize self-care by maintaining healthy habits, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep. Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques to manage stress and stay present. Finally, don’t hesitate to seek support from loved ones or a mental health professional if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

The level of stress can vary depending on personal circumstances and cultural factors, but many people find Christmas to be the most stressful holiday. This is due to the high expectations and numerous obligations associated with gift-giving, hosting or attending parties, and family gatherings. However, it’s important to remember that stress is subjective and what may be stressful for one person might not be for another.

Symptoms of stress during the holidays can manifest both physically and emotionally. Physical symptoms can include headaches, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, and an upset stomach. Emotional symptoms might involve feelings of sadness, irritability, inability to concentrate, and feelings of being overwhelmed. If you notice these symptoms, it’s important to take steps to manage your stress and consider seeking professional help if they persist.

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