Close up of Christmas baubles

12 Easy And Effective Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress

‘Tis the season to be jolly…or is it?

While the holidays can be a joyful time, it’s not all uncommon to experience increased amounts of stress, anxiety, and low mood.

The demands that tag along-such as shopping for gifts, battling crowds, and family get-togethers, all turn into potential stressors.

While you may often feel pressure to keep your spirits up during the holiday season, it’s okay to experience a variety of emotions. Here are 12 tips to help you prevent and manage holiday stress.

What is holiday stress?

There are a lot of expectations about what the holidays should be. The perfect turkey, a well-made table, being an entertaining host, buying perfect gifts, and getting along as a family. Everything has to be perfect.

Just thinking about it gives me a little shiver. Holiday stress is caused by trying to meet the expectations of the holiday season.

Woman looking at laptop as children dance around her

You’re not alone with holiday stress

In a 2015 study, 62% of people said they were ‘very’ stressed during the holiday seasons. Holiday stress affects both children and adults and the pandemic has only made the feelings worse. So here are 12 ways you can reduce holiday stress and anxiety

1. It’s okay to do what you want

Do the things that you want to do instead of just the things that you are expected to do. 

During the holidays we often get caught up in obligations with tradition – doing what we ‘should‘ do, and forgetting to do the things we enjoy. 

Remember to maintain a healthy balance between keeping traditions and enjoying the time that should be a ‘holiday’!

2. Acknowledge your feelings. 

The holidays can bring up many uncomfortable emotions-such as grief, sadness, and loneliness. However, the more we push our feelings to the side or avoid them entirely, the more intensely we can feel them later. It’s not only healthy to acknowledge our emotions, but it’s what makes us human.

If you make the time, some mindfulness meditation can help you feel calm and give you some mental space to understand and keep you in touch with your feelings.

3. Set aside family differences in opinions. 

Family can be one of the biggest stressors throughout the holidays. It’s likely that our differences in opinions are the biggest stressors. For the time being, try to set them aside. Set them aside until you know you’re in a healthy and safe space to process the differences instead at the table while passing the sprouts. Blowing up at one another isn’t productive and can do more harm than good.

Young girl with hands on her cheeks

4. Limit your time on social media

Social media tends to only show the ‘best of’ highlights – putting up the family tree, looking like a perfect couple sitting together, and opening the most wanted gifts. 

However, social media doesn’t show all the things that might be happening behind the camera – conflict, loneliness, anxiety, and arguments. The point is that you shouldn’t compare yourself, or your situation, to what you see on social media.

Swap your social media with meditation podcasts – find a full list here.

5. Set realistic expectations

One of the biggest sources of stress is setting unrealistic expectations. 

If you try to do too much and to such a high quality then you’re just setting yourself up for stress and disappointment. You may want to cook a perfect turkey and cover a table in the most delectable hors d’oeuvres, but unless you are someone who regularly cooks this much and to such a high quality (like my mother), then trying to do this for the first time, with the added pressure of trying to please others is a recipe for disaster.

Be honest and realistic with yourself about the expectations you’re setting, and shift them to real ones as needed. Keep it simple.

6. Add healthy habits to your daily routine

Maintaining healthy habits during the holiday season will be one of your best defenses against stress. Quality sleep, exercise, meditation, and a balanced diet can help you feel a lot better during this time. It’s okay to indulge a little occasionally, but don’t make it the ‘norm’ for prolonged periods.

7. List what is important to you

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

The holidays can be full of commitments, from work parties to family get-togethers. Writing down a list of all expectations during the holidays can help it be easier to see all your commitments. This list can be your expectation of others, or yourself, but also what you think others expect of you. Once you’ve made this list pick the few that you can actually commit to. You may want to place the list somewhere you’ll be able to see 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.

man wearing an elf jumper looking fed up

8. Set boundaries

The giving spirit of the holidays can lead to you overcommitting your time and energy. If you followed the last step, you should now have a framework of what is important to you, and what you chose to commit to. If anyone (including yourself) is wanting more than what you’ve agreed to, then you are agreeing to do things that aren’t important to you.

9. Utilize your support system.

Despite what may seem like an influx of social interaction (trips to the mall, attending big family dinners, back-to-back holiday parties), feelings of loneliness and isolation can spike throughout the holidays. Consider looking into additional ways for you to get out and about within your community, such as volunteering or contacting loved ones more frequently.

10. Go on a walk or spend some time outdoors.

While it may be cold out, going for a short walk offers a boost of serotonin and help fight against seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Plus, the repetition of walking can have a calming effect, which decreases anxiety and improves your quality of sleep as a result.

woman picking up champagne glass from the floor

11. Make small changes

Take things one step at a time and do your best to focus on the little things that can help you wind down at the end of a long day. Small adjustments that won’t make or break your routine can be added to make noticeable differences in your mood and bring back the joy to the holidays.

12. Take control of the holidays

Don’t let the holidays become dreadful. Instead, take small steps to prevent the stress that quickly arises throughout the season. Recognize your personal holiday triggers, such as financial strain or family get-togethers, so you can better tackle them before they get out of control. With a little planning ahead of time and some optimism, you can find joy and peace during the upcoming holiday season.

The silver lining with holiday stress

There is one thing that’s good about holiday stress – it happens at the same time every year. Unlike other stresses, we can’t plan for, we can plan for the holidays.

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 holiday stress takeaway

To use the well-being cliche – looking after yourself isn’t selfish. This is a time when we are supposed to be happy and giving, and the pressure to be in the best form for everyone can take a toll on our well-being. Just remember that looking after yourself means that you can better be there for others.

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

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