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 Managing Stress During the Holidays

The holiday season often brings joy and cheer, but for many, it also brings stress. Between shopping, parties, family visits, expectations, and more, this time of year can quickly become overwhelming. As a busy holiday enthusiast, I totally get it. But with some practical tips, managing stress during the holidays yields the reward of actually enjoying time with family and friends.

 How We Get Stressed During the Holidays

Before we get into the solutions, it helps to understand just why we get so stressed out over the holidays in the first place. Here are some of the main culprits:

  • Holiday High Standards- Many of us put pressure on ourselves to create picture-perfect holidays. We want to host the best parties, give the most thoughtful gifts, decorate immaculately, create gorgeous cards, bake elaborate treats, and more. Chasing perfection is exhausting!
  • Trying to Do Too Much- Our calendars quickly fill up with seasonal activities like parties, shopping, baking, visiting families, attending school concerts, and more. Trying to cram it all in leaves us depleted.
  • Added Expenses- The holidays often strain our budgets. Gifts, travel, food, decor, and other costs can really add up, leading to financial fatigue.
  • Family Stress- Getting the families all together sounds idyllic, but it can also create strain. Diverse personalities, managing expectations, disagreement over traditions, recovering from old wounds, and other family issues bubble up.
  • Physical Effects- The stress takes a real physical toll—leaving us drained, anxious, short-tempered, and vulnerable to winter illnesses. Lack of sleep, exercise, and healthy eating makes it all worse.
Candle representing managing stress during holidays by staying calm.

 Tips for Managing Stress During the Holidays

The good news is many effective strategies help temper all that holiday stress. Try these tips:

  • Set Realistic Expectations- Perfectionism sucks the joy right out of the season. Instead, set realistic expectations for yourself. Give yourself grace to say no sometimes and to not do everything. Focus more on being present with loved ones than creating perfect moments.
  • Create a Budget- Financial fatigue fuels seasonal stress. Take time to map out expected costs and set a reasonable holiday budget. Get on the same page with your significant other, discuss desired gift spending caps with extended families, and scale back expectations as needed within your own immediate family too. 
  • Shop Early and Spread It Out- Waiting to buy everything until mid-December turns an otherwise fun activity into a high-stress scramble. Instead, take advantage of sales throughout late fall. Spread out shopping trips to avoid marathon days that leave you exhausted. Ordering some gifts online also helps ease the burden.
  • Simplify Menu Plans- No need to create elaborate holiday meals every single time extended families gather. Simplify menus sometimes by doing an easy favorite meal, potluck-style gathering, restaurant reservations, or deli platters. Focus more on the gathering than outdoing yourself in the kitchen.
  • Enlist Help- You do not have to take on all holiday prep yourself. Kids can help address cards, clean, bake cookies, wrap gifts, and more based on their age and skill level. Delegate some party hosting or family meals to others too. Hire a cleaning service to come deep clean your home right before big gatherings. Ask loved ones to contribute time or money to some activities.
  • Maintain Healthy Habits- Sticking to regular exercise, sufficient sleep, a healthy diet, and stress management routines makes handling the holidays much more doable. Do not abandon all your good habits just because things get busy. Even 10-15 minutes of movement daily makes a difference. 
Woman and dog walking on shore.
  • Take Time for Yourself- Carve out some alone time amid the holiday hubbub. Use it to read, meditate, enjoy nature, pray, journal, do a craft project, soak in the tub, or anything else nourishing for your soul. Protecting your inner peace bolsters resilience for all you have to tackle.
  • Let Some Things Go- You realistically cannot do it all during the holidays, despite good intentions. Give yourself permission to let some things go undone without feeling guilty. Whether it’s sending out picture perfect cards, attending every event, having a spotless house, finding the perfect gift for everyone, or whatever else tries to cram your calendar, know that you can politely decline. Do what you can reasonably manage then surrender the rest.
  • Focus on Meaning- When tensions rise and stress elevates, reconnect with the deeper meaning of the season. Shift your focus back to treasuring time with loved ones, counting blessings, and celebrating long-held rituals and traditions that reconnect you. Keep perspective that while creating special moments matters, perfection does not. 
  • Seek Support- If it all becomes too much, do not hesitate to seek help. Talk to your doctor if intense anxiety or depression persists. Lean on family members or friends to tackle some items on your to-do list. Seek the support of clergy or counselors too if you struggle to keep things in perspective. With good social support and professional help if needed, you can get through challenging seasons.
  • Breathe and Be Present- When you feel your stress levels rising, pause and take some deep centering breaths. Close your eyes, inhale slowly, envision your breath coming in and out like waves washing stress away. Exhale away tension. Repeat until you feel more grounded and peaceful. Remember to be fully present and mindful, not worrying about everything left to do. This moment is all that matters.
Green foilage with word Breathe in pink cursive writing. How managing stress during the holidays with breathing.

The holiday season holds so much promise for joyful moments with loved ones, delicious food, thoughtful gifts, meaningful traditions, spiritual grounding, and more. Managing stress during the holidays is vital to a joyful experience. With some practical strategies, smart simplifying, and self-care, you can minimize the stress, maximize the cheer, and actually enjoy it rather than just enduring while counting down the days. Give yourself grace, delegate tasks, and make room for both festive fun and rest. Here’s to a more relaxed and pleasant holiday season ahead!

Mini Christmas tree on table with flower framed

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