6 Expert Strategies to Keep Your Stress at Bay During the Holidays

Feeling anxious this holiday season? Use these simple stress-management strategies to get you through it.

Taylor Leamey Senior Writer
Taylor Leamey writes about all things wellness, specializing in mental health, sleep and nutrition coverage. She has invested hundreds of hours into studying and researching sleep and holds a Certified Sleep Science Coach certification from the Spencer Institute. Not to mention the years she spent studying mental health fundamentals while earning her bachelor's degrees in both Psychology and Sociology. She is also a Certified Stress Management Coach.
Expertise Bachelor of Science, Psychology and Sociology Credentials
  • Certified Sleep Science Coach, Certified Stress Management Coach
Taylor Leamey
4 min read
Man stressed while writing next to a stack of gifts with a Christmas tree in the background.
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The holidays are quickly approaching, and you might be feeling the pressure of this time of year. In addition to the elaborate meals, well-thought-out gifts and never-faltering smiles comes the anxiety. For many people, holiday festivities trigger an influx of stress and anxiety symptoms

You're not alone if you aren't feeling merry and bright. If this time of year spikes your stress levels, it can feel like you're doomed to struggle through the season. I've pulled together practical tips and strategies that'll help you minimize holiday stress. You can start using them today. 

Read more: Holiday Gifts and Gadgets That Cost $30 or Less

How do the holidays affect mental health? 

For many people, the holidays are the most difficult time of the year for their mental health. 

According to a poll conducted on behalf of the American Psychiatric Association, 41% of Americans reported that their stress levels increased during the holidays. 

There's a lot expected of us during the holidays, which can cause anxiety to skyrocket. But it's not just stress or social anxiety that occurs. Depression is also common during the holidays. For some, this can lead to loneliness or lack of fulfillment, which amplifies depression symptoms, especially if someone is grieving during the holidays or is already living with seasonal affective disorder.

Conditions such as depression and anxiety can worsen, with the added stress of family and holiday shopping or the isolation that COVID-19 introduced to some people's holidays.

6 tips for managing your stress during the holidays 

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1. Acknowledge what you're feeling

Just because it's the holiday season doesn't mean you'll automatically be happy. And that's OK. The first step in managing stress is to acknowledge what you are feeling. Once you name the stress and recognize it's happening, you can decide how to react to it. 

Acknowledging the stress you feel can also help you find the source of your stress. Maybe it's that your plans are falling apart or that having all of your family in your home is stressful.

Naming your feelings and then identifying what is making your anxiety symptoms flare up can help you get a handle on things. 

2. Plan ahead where you can

One of the most stressful parts of the holidays is how much planning and coordinating goes into it. Planning things out is a crucial tool you have to reduce holiday stress. 

Giving yourself the space to identify potential problems and plan how to address them can solve some issues before they arise. Plan out as much as possible -- your holiday spending budget, your travel checklist or what you're going to eat. To ease and anticipate stress, plan as much as you can. 

3. Embrace saying no 

Having boundaries is essential for our mental health. They're even more important during the holidays when stress levels are high, and we're off our schedule. It's easy to say yes to everything, especially when family asks. 

However, if you don't want to participate in a particular tradition or activity, say no. Saying no and respecting your boundaries can not only ease stress but maintain positive relationships and protect your values. Feeling empowered to stay no will help you from pushing yourself too far and entering holiday burnout.  

4. Make time for yourself 

Sometimes, having all your family members packed into one house for days on end can be a bit smothering. Understandably, you may be feeling a little stressed. Remember, no matter how far you or your family traveled, you can take some time for yourself. You can spare an hour or so to get away and prioritize self-care

Self-care looks different for everyone. There's no right or wrong way to take care of yourself, though most activities allow you to be alone and take a breather.  

Common self-care strategies for the holidays:

  • Go for a walk
  • Breathing exercises or meditation 
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Head to the gym
  • Read a book
  • Listen to music 

5. Stick to your healthy habits

The holidays are some of the busiest times of the year. A lot is going on, and sometimes our normal habits and routines fall by the wayside. In place of our exercise routine, we stay inside and watch a movie. Instead of having a healthy snack, we reach for the holiday treats all around us. 

Those things alone aren't bad. A few cookies and skipping the gym won't ruin your healthy journey. However, it can amplify your stress. Processed or high in sugar foods have been linked to increased cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is the primary hormone that regulates our stress response. If there is excess cortisol in the body, you will feel stressed.

If you're feeling stressed, prioritize your established healthy eating and exercise habits as much as possible. Don't add stress to your life by making unrealistic expectations or goals for yourself during the holiday season. Find the middle ground that's right for you. 

Two older women sitting on porch stairs drinking coffee in front of their house.
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6. Reach out to family and friends

The holidays can also be extremely isolating, especially if you don't have or cannot visit family. Depression symptoms can worsen due to influences like family stressors, social isolation or seasonal affective disorder

If you're predisposed to depression symptoms, reaching out to people when you need a connection is important. Whether Zoom sessions or regular phone calls, being intentional about your need for connection can help you get through the holiday season. 

Too long; didn't read?

The holidays, as wonderful as they can be, are an extremely stressful time of year for many people. But don't worry, you can avoid the pitfalls and actually improve your mental health during the holiday season; it just takes a little intention. Try things like planning, setting boundaries and embracing self-care to ensure you enjoy yourself. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.