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Dec 5, 2018

Reducing Stress During the Holidays

By Lisa Stephens, PhD, @lisastephens


As the song goes…"It’s the most wonderful time of the year." For many, this is true. Some absolutely love the hustle and bustle, razzle and dazzle of the holiday season, yet there are others who find the demands to be too much. The array of stressors such as baking, cleaning, entertaining, shopping, etc. can feel like a full-time job. For those already undergoing major life-related issues, it’s easier for the stress to get you down. Below are some recommendations from Mayo Clinic including coping tips and strategies to assist you in getting through the season.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.
  2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others is also a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  3. Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can't come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.
    • Donate to a charity in someone's name.
    • Give homemade gifts.
    • Start a family gift exchange.

Try these alternatives:

  1. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That'll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
  2. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  3. Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.
    • Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.

Try these suggestions:

  1. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
    • Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
    • Listening to soothing music.
    • Getting a massage.
    • Reading a book.
  2. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
  3. Don't let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays.
  4. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.

Do you have any tips, strategies or traditions that help get you through the holiday season? Feel free to share what has worked for you.

References and Resources:

  1. Making the most of the holiday season. American Psychological Association. Accessed May 18, 2017.
  2. Tips for parents on managing holiday stress. American Psychological Association. Accessed May 18, 2017.
  3. Holiday stress? Try out top 5 tips for a heart-healthy holiday season. American Heart Association. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  4. Manage stress. Accessed May 18, 2017
  5. Specific to women - who tend to report higher levels of stress during the holidays – Mayo Clinic published an article about women, stress, and the holidays. In addition, you can view Dr. Jordan Rullo’s video about stress and the holidays for women.

Liked by Sheri Donaldson

I am one of those people that doesn't become very festive during the holidays. And, it is very stressful being around people that are unable to appreciate or respect that


I am one of those people that doesn't become very festive during the holidays. And, it is very stressful being around people that are unable to appreciate or respect that

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My husband is the same way. we do not spend money . I tell people he hates the shopping the they gave me a gift so I have to give them one.


My husband is the same way. we do not spend money . I tell people he hates the shopping the they gave me a gift so I have to give them one.

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I promised my children many years ago that I would never put the pressure on them that family puts on everyone. So, we celebrate the holidays on or after the Orthodox January 6th & 7th. The grand children get a second round of presents and fun, and my wife and I congregate with our kids and their spouses in one of our kids' kitchen, fix fun meals, laugh and decompress. No one stresses, everyone is relaxed, and we all just have fun with each other.


I am one of those people that doesn't become very festive during the holidays. And, it is very stressful being around people that are unable to appreciate or respect that

Jump to this post

Hi, @mark_fugate – you mentioned you're one of those people who don't become very festive during the holidays. I'm sure there are many people who are also like that, but perhaps don't feel brave enough to vocalize it. Wondered if you'd share more about that … why you feel you don't become very festive and what kinds of reactions you may have experienced from others with that?


It's pretty simple, I get depressed. I have a friend that also gets depressed, very depressed, around the solstice. My friend spends winters in New Zealand to combat his depression.

Beyond being depressed, I get just plain tired and want to rest. This year I have needed my rest. I had a brush with death earlier this year caused by a stress related illness. If that was not enough, a very irritating bigoted relative decided I needed five days of elevated stress over Thanksgiving. The holiday irritations have always been there. My only refuge are my children and grand children and they have their pressures which is why we do a 'Family Decompress' in early January. The only rules are relax and enjoy each other.

Maybe I am being a tad harsh, but doesn't "No" mean 'no'? And, just because one is unable or too selfish to understand does not make it OK to be disrespectful.

As for reactions from others, I get two kinds. Respect for my personal space, and disrespect. I know that they are well meaning, but that does not excuse the disrespect.

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