Managing Holiday Stress (So It Doesn’t Come Back)

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the holidays again? If so, you need more than temporary fixes. Here are five ideas for managing holiday stress that will not only help you this season but will make future holidays more joyful, too.

Most Wonderful Stressful Time

Year after year, surveys confirm the majority of adults find the holiday season the most stressful time of the year.

This is hardly surprising. The fact is, most of us are overwhelmed throughout the year. Then December comes along and knocks us off our feet, demanding even more of our time, money, and energy.

yellow sad face with Santa hat

It’s no wonder good cheer often turns to Grinchy-ness.

The Causes of Holiday Stress

It’s ironic that the season of peace and joy causes so much chaos and overwhelm. The problem, of course, isn’t the time of year or even the holidays themselves.

Our expectations and sense of obligation are the real culprits.

making list for managing holiday stress

We’re all familiar with the typical holiday season to-do list:

  • Decorate
  • Bake
  • Shop
  • Wrap
  • Write and Mail Cards
  • Cook Fancy Meals
  • Attend Special Events
  • Visit With Family
  • Host and/or Attend Parties

Since these activities are typically piled atop our already-demanding schedules, it’s no wonder we feel so stressed during the holiday season.

Symptoms Of Holiday Stress

Managing stress is important any time of year, but given the added pressures of the holiday season, it’s especially important to remain alert to how you’re feeling.

Some common symptoms of stress include:

  • Stomach and digestive issues
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to sleep
  • Headaches
  • Changes in Appetite or Cravings
  • Irritability

Left unchecked, stress can lead to more serious issues such as:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Panic Attacks
  • Depression

Remember that the added stress of the holidays can get to anyone, even those who aren’t normally prone to anxiety. So be sure to check in with yourself and take heed if you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms.

Why Short-Term Relief Is Short-Sighted

There are plenty of quick and easy ways to carve out a bit of calm during the frenzy of the holiday season, and they can certainly be helpful in managing stress levels.

It’s always a good idea, for example, to step away for a bit if you start feeling overwhelmed.

Taking a walk, sipping a cup of tea, or listening to soothing music are all great ways to relieve stress.

At least for a little while.

The problem with these short-term tactics, however, is they are only stop-gap measures. They may bring calm for the moment, but they do nothing to address the underlying reasons the holidays are so stressful year after year…after year.

The truth is, unless you make some lasting changes, you’ll soon need to take another walk or brew a second cup of tea.

Instead of escaping for 15 minutes of calm, wouldn’t you really rather just break the cycle of constant holiday stress once and for all?

Managing Holiday Stress So It Doesn’t Come Back

When the stress we feel during the holidays overshadows the joys, it’s definitely time to make some changes.

We’re talking about meaningful changes that identify and then eliminate the root causes of your worst holiday-induced anxiety.

The ideas below are not “quick fixes.” They are simple enough, but not quite as simple as brewing a cup of tea. The reward you reap for implementing them, however, may just prove priceless:

Less stress and more joy not just during this holiday season, but for every holiday season to come.

Five Ways To Improve Every Holiday Season

1. Prioritize and Joyfully Accept Non-Negotiable Events

There will always be special events and long-standing traditions during the holiday season that take priority over all others. These may include religious services, children’s school performances, a family gathering, work party, or a charity event.

Make a point early in the season to highlight these events on the calendar, allowing plenty of time before and after for any necessary preparations and travel time.

Then, even if some of these events are not your favorite, make a point to accept them graciously and enjoy them as much as possible.

If you struggle with this, imagine yourself in the place of those who have planned the event or practiced many hours to perform. Undoubtedly they have made such efforts in the hope of bringing joy to others. Graciously indulging their efforts is a wonderful gift to give them.

At the very least, if you absolutely cannot feel joyful about an event, vow not to complain. Hold your tongue, wear a smile, and give yourself credit for not ruining the fun for others.

Making room in the schedule and then adopting a gracious attitude towards obligatory holiday events will allow you to face them with, if not complete joy, then at least with minimal anxiety.

2. Prioritize Your Favorite Holiday Activities

The holiday season only comes around once a year, so it can be disappointing to miss out on activities that won’t happen again for another twelve months.

Too often, however, we allow the wishes of others to take precedence over our own preferences, leaving us feeling both anxious and frustrated.

It’s important to remember that everyone enjoys different things about the holiday season, and your preferences are just as valid as anyone else’s. Honor your favorite activities by adding them to the calendar and communicating their importance to you with family and friends.

decorating christmas cookies can help manage holiday stress

You may be surprised to discover others would like to prioritize and share in the same activities. Or they may appreciate knowing they can focus on their own favorite aspect of the holidays while you focus on yours.

Even if there is no one else to confer with about your plans, prioritizing your favorite holiday activities means you’ll be sure to enjoy them, stress- and guilt-free, year after year.

3. Reconsider Stress-Inducing Traditions

The holiday season is full of traditions. Some of these deserve to be honored, others do not.

If you’re struggling to manage holiday stress year after year, it’s probably time to reconsider the “we’ve always done it this way” approach to celebrating the season.

You’ll want to include any family and friends with whom you celebrate in the decision-making process when it comes to forgoing or modifying long-standing traditions. Stay mindful that what holds little significance for you may be deeply meaningful to someone else.

But you might just discover that everyone would love to stop exchanging gag gifts or would prefer to move the potluck gathering to January when there’s more time to enjoy it.

overwhelmed man in santa hat not managing holiday stress

Because, like you, nearly everyone else is looking to experience less stress and more fun during the holiday season. It just takes is someone to start the conversation.

4. Enjoy A Different Focus Each Holiday Season

Do you love pretty much everything about the holiday season but end up feeling stressed because you can’t begin to enjoy it all? If so, this idea is for you!

Instead of trying to do a little bit of everything each season, pick a “theme” to focus on and enjoy it to the max.

For example, one year might be your Year of Lights where you go all out covering the house in lights but purchase cookies instead of baking them. The next year you might do minimal decorating so you have time to bake all the fancy cookies you’ve wanted to try.

two street lanterns with christmas lights

By mixing up your focus each year, you can fully immerse yourself in a chosen activity. You can enjoy every nuance instead of rushing through it. And, most importantly, you can stop stressing over the things you aren’t doing because they’ll get all your attention another season.

5. Forget About Perfection

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in managing holiday stress is that there is no such thing as a perfect holiday.

Celebrating the holidays is personal and subjective. There is no one way for the season to look, sound, smell, taste, or feel.

So don’t compare your life to what you see on social media or in a magazine. Making pretty pictures is easy, but life, especially during the holiday season, can be hard.

Your holidays don’t have to be perfect, just perfectly suited to you.