holiday stress

How To Manage Holiday Stress 

By Christopher Nahumck, Ph.D., MDiv, MSW, MA


You may remember the holidays from your childhood fondly. You recall waking up early on Christmas and being so excited. Or, perhaps you think about spending weeks off school celebrating Hanukkah.  As an adult, the holidays may be different now. Holiday stress can ruin what is supposed to be the most “wonderful time of the year.” 


In between endless to-do lists and hosting holiday parties, you find yourself feeling overwhelmed. And, in spite of desperately wanting to feel joyful, it is elusive.  Instead of enjoying yourself, you feel fatigued and irritated. You’re turning into a Grinch. 


If you feel like this, you are not alone. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 50 percent of women and 43 percent of men experience anxiety and increased stress during the holidays. The holidays don’t have to feel stressful. It is possible to feel joy and give yourself over to the spirit of community, family, and connection during the holiday season. Want to know how to beat holiday stress? Following these three simple guidelines will help you enjoy the holidays stress-free.


#1 Plan Ahead




It can be annoying to see the stores decorated for holidays five months in advance, but they have a point. Don’t wait until the last minute for anything. Trying to do things last minute only heightens anxiety levels. Planning allows you to set your schedule. So, you won’t feel rushed. This will cut down on worry as it will help you feel more in control. So, if you are throwing a party, create a list of things that you need to do. To help combat holiday stress, start preparing for Thanksgiving at least three weeks in advance. And, don’t wait until the last minute to buy Christmas gifts. 


#2 Keep A Calendar 


holiday stress


Ten parties, six dinners, three work lunch-celebrations, and a school concert are a lot of things to keep track of.  To get a hold on holiday stress, keep a calendar to help you keep track of events. Using your cell phone calendar is probably the best as you can set up reminders too. Consider keeping a family calendar, as well. It can help keep everyone in the household is on the same page. Most cell phones let you set up multiple calendars (personal, work, family, etc.) 


A calendar will help you see the big picture, and it helps you keep track of what you’ve committed yourself to. So, you don’t end up overbooking yourself. This can greatly reduce stress and worry allowing you to feel more relaxed and enjoy the holidays a bit more. 


#3 Say NO to Holiday Stress!


Holidays can bring about a lot of stress. In spite of that,  We are encouraged to act like it’s all ok. Except, sometimes it is not okay. Maybe your family background is dysfunctional and every holiday gathering turns into a drama. If visiting for the entire weekend makes you feel stressed, maybe spend a couple of hours with family instead. It’s perfectly fine to say no to anything that you think would add more stress to your life. 


Perhaps you feel overwhelmed every year because you believe that you must host the annual holiday get-together? Again, permit yourself to say no. Ask another family member to step in and host this year. 


When you are planning, look at all the things you are being asked to do, and ask yourself what you want to do, and what you can say no to.  Chances are you can say no to more things than you think.  If the demands of the situation aren’t worth the benefits, say no to what you need to.  It is ok.


#4 Enjoy The Moment


holiday cheer


Once you’ve set yourself on your path and you’re at a gathering, enjoy the moment.  Easier said than done, I know, but… Take a breath and take it in. Being in the moment is how we enjoy ourselves Mindfulness is a good way to go about this.  In these sorts of social situations, simple is the best way forward. Mindfulness is just a buzzword for controlling one’s attention. When thoughts move into an anxious space, mindfulness allows you to bring them back to the present. I find that if you can just start to bring your thoughts back to the present and focus on the things around you, it can be incredibly centering.


How To Be “In The Moment” 


Try this exercise to practice being “In the moment.” Notice the color of the eyes of the person you are talking to.  What color lipstick or beard do they have? What do your shoes feel like right now? Is the temperature cold or warm? Are the lights bright or dim?  What sort of smells do you notice? These sorts of things have you become more engaged in the moment, and the people around you don’t have to know that you are re-centering.


Once you are back in the “now” you can enjoy yourself and be with the people that you’ve chosen to be with.  And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?


Final Thoughts On Managing Holiday Stress 


The holidays can be taxing both physically and mentally.  Planning ahead, setting boundaries, and being in the moment can help you be present and feel more in control. Focusing on those things can also help bring the joy of the holidays back. 


Many people turn to harmful coping mechanisms like overeating or medicating with alcohol to deal with stressful holidays. If you find yourself doing this, I encourage you to connect with a therapist. They can help you find ways to cope healthily. If you’re already working with a therapist, be sure to let them know how the holidays affect you. Taking these steps will help you avoid stress and introduce more well-being and joy into your holiday season. 


Dr. Christopher Nahumck is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in depression, anxiety, and men’s issues. Make an appointment with Dr. Nahumck today.