Managing your stress during the holidays

By Adrianna | December 10, 2019

holiday stress candlesThe holidays always seem to come with such high expectations because of the way they are portrayed in the media, the pressure to be overly joyful, the planning, shopping and so on. I mean it is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right? The stress many people endure during the holidays can make it the most draining, troublesome time of the year. To manage or limit this stress, it is important to recognize and understand what triggers it. Throughout this article, you will see that the key to managing your stress during the holidays is balance. Creating a healthy balance in your life, especially during the holiday season, is easier said than done but hopefully at least one of these tips can positively impact your stress levels and holiday experience. 

Common causes of holiday stress

Stress is inevitable; it is part of what keeps us going every day but too much stress can negatively impact our lives. The holidays are a prime time for people to experience unhealthy stress levels because we simply do too much. The high expectations placed on the holidays force people to overexert, and spread themselves too thin in many areas of their lives; this results in people feeling disheveled rather than fulfilled. We spend so much time stressing over parties, traditions, family, and making sure everything is perfect that we don’t get to actually enjoy this season of our life.


The last three months of the year always seem like the busiest with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s so close together. When we get caught up in the chaos of the holidays it can become incredibly easy to overindulge. This is a time where it is common for people to eat, drink, be merry, and purchase gifts, often to excess. This overindulgence can influence long-lasting, negative stress in our lives because we often have to live with the consequences even after the holidays. These consequences include unwanted weight gain, embarrassment, and debt. Here are some ways to avoid overindulging:

  • Set and follow a budget for both food and gifts
  • Eat a healthy snack before going to an event to limit food and drink temptations
  • Practice mindful eating – don’t let stress ruin your healthy lifestyle

Spending too much time with others

It is very common for extended families to gather during the holidays and exchange gifts, share food, and spend time together. This is great because it is a time where people are guaranteed to catch up with those they love, but even the closest families can spend too much time together. It is still critical to take time for yourself to unwind and reflect, even during the holidays. Spending too much time with others and not enough time alone can cause irritability, stress, and conflicts, especially if there are underlying family issues. If you have a bad relationship with your relatives or just the thought of spending more than an hour with them is driving you crazy, here’s some advice:

  • It’s okay to set boundaries with relatives by choosing not to see them or limiting your time with them
  • Holidays are not the time to get into grievances with family members; set aside your differences until a more appropriate time
  • Your family may also be experiencing holiday emotions; be understanding

Spending too much time alone

On the other hand, spending too much time alone is also a cause of stress during the holidays. While some may be dreading their family parties, others are spending their holidays alone. This can be a very hard time for those who are lonely as the holidays can exacerbate this feeling when everyone else seems to be happy spending time with their company. Try these ideas for the holidays if you are feeling deserted:

  • Simply ask a friend if you can tagalong on their holiday plans
  • Invite your friends over and be the one to host a holiday gathering
  • Volunteer your time to help the less fortunate – this is a fulfilling experience and will lift your spirits by allowing you to focus on what you have rather than what you don’t

How to manage holiday stress

If you experienced holiday stress last year, chances are it will likely happen again this year. It is completely predictable, which means it is easier to prepare for and manage. Since we know roughly when the holiday stress will start and end, as well as what impacts it, we are able to combat accordingly. I think the most important piece of advice to be mindful of is to be realistic and lower your expectations. The holidays will never be perfect, you will never be able to make every single person happy, and things will not always go according to plan, and it would be unrealistic to think the opposite.

Plan ahead

Laying out what the holidays will entail before they happen will help you visualize and prepare for what is to come. This type of planning includes figuring out what meals will have to be made, what gifts need to be bought and when you will be baking, wrapping, and cleaning. You then will be able to eliminate last-minute scrambling because you will know what you need and when you need it while having a set budget to avoid financial distress.

Planning ahead of time for the holidays will help make the situation feel less chaotic and stress-inducing. This will allow you to be able to pinpoint what days you have available, the days you are already too busy, and the days you need to ask for help.

Set priorities

Understand that one person can only do so much, and learn to say no! One of the goals for this holiday season is to find a balance between spending too much time with others and spending too much time alone, and going to a holiday event every single night is not going to provide that balance. Give priority to special events and traditions that provide a positive impact in your life and be picky about the others you choose to attend. This will free up your schedule as well as help you realize which plans are worth your time and which will leave you exhausted by holiday end.


While this may seem like an ineffective way to manage holiday stress, it’s not. If there is ever a time you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or out of control, take time to just breathe. Whether you do meditation or just spend some time alone, recognizing your breath can be enough to clear your mind and bring you back to center.

With a little extra effort, planning, and balance, you will be able to experience the holidays in a positive light. If your stress feels out of your control or continues after the holidays it is important to speak to a professional.

About the Author

Aimee Kauffman, LPC is a therapist in East Lansing, Michigan specializing in individual therapy. She has a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Michigan State University and has been in practice for more than a decade.



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