Tips to handle holiday stress

The end of the year comes with plenty to look forward to, but it can also be a time of increased stress. Unmanaged stress can have negative effects on health

Holiday stress can show up in several ways. Perhaps it comes from having guests in your home, cooking, hosting gatherings, seeing family, or finishing end-of-the-year work around vacation.

But don’t worry, this doesn’t have to be a stressful time just because it’s been in the past. Put some of these holiday stress tips into place, make this year different, and help prevent stress and anxiety. While we can’t always prevent the stress of the holidays, we can at least be prepared to manage it.

Set realistic goals

While having a plan is good, going overboard can set us up for failure. Managing holiday stress is about setting realistic and achievable goals. For example, if you’re planning a party and feeling overwhelmed by the amount of food you will need, make it a potluck. This way, you can set a goal of making a few dishes yourself and relying on everyone else to bring at least one thing to contribute. 

Plan in advance & prioritize

Holiday stress often comes from a handful of specific triggers. Consider which ones get you the most frazzled and prioritize actions that directly impact these exposures. For example, if it’s all of the social events you’re usually invited to for the holidays between friends, family, and coworkers that cause stress, don’t attend all of them. Instead, prioritize the ones that are the most important to you.

Be in the moment

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, which may leave you asking, “Why are the holidays stressful”? This can understandably create added stress that interferes with enjoying the moment. Instead, take each moment as it comes. 

Reap the rewards of your planning so you can sit back and relax. People don’t remember all the details; they remember how they felt when they spent time with you. 

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep makes everything harder, and the stress of the holidays can seem overwhelming if you are tired. Likewise, low energy makes it difficult to think clearly, plan meals, cook, shop for gifts, or schedule events — making holiday stress worse. Going to bed and getting up around the same time every day is one of the most important tips. Make your bedroom a calm, inviting place; use comfy sheets and blackout curtains if necessary. 

Expect something to go wrong

Holidays are placed on a pedestal as the most wonderful time of the year. But the truth is that they’re never perfect, which contributes to the stress of the holidays. Something will inevitably go wrong: the entrée will get burned, guests will cancel at the last minute, you will forget to do things on your to-do list, the electricity will go out, or the dog will chew your shoes. When you expect at least one thing to go wrong, you can also be pleasantly surprised should everything go as intended.

Create a new tradition

Traditions are fun, like hanging Christmas lights the day after Thanksgiving, taking a late-night drive to look at lights, or going for a hayride with apple cider. Keep traditions you enjoy alive and make new ones that carry on for generations. Maybe this means reading with your kids on Christmas Eve, watching a movie on Halloween, or making a pie on Thanksgiving. Wherever the tradition is, make it enjoyable and stress-free. 

Surround yourself with supportive friends/family

Most people know how stressful holidays can be and can empathize with one another in that way. If the holidays are an overwhelming or sad season, make sure to spend time with people you like. As you gather around friends and family, eliminate the stress of COVID-19 and test beforehand, or make sure you are up-to-date on your vaccines.

Volunteer and spread kindness

The holiday season is a great time to serve our neighbors and communities. Consider volunteering for local events or organizations on your own or with others. Homeless shelters, churches, and donation centers may need an extra hand this time of year. Volunteering and putting the focus on others is a great way to reduce holiday stress through giving.


The holidays can be busy and noisy, making it difficult to find quiet time to relax. In this case, making space for a relaxation technique like meditation is vital for your mental health. When you meditate, the purpose is to clear your mind and be present in the calmness around you. Alternatives to meditation may include other activities that increase calm and happiness, like listening to music, going for a walk, painting, yoga, or journaling. 

Learn to say ‘no’

If you tend to take on more than you can handle, the holidays can make this an even worse habit. The holiday season can come with many demands and added stress to an already busy schedule. Saying “no” creates healthy boundaries and gives you the time, space, and energy to put into things you want to do. It also demonstrates healthy boundaries for kids as they also feel the effects of stress at home.

Avoid financial stress

In our quest to make the holidays “perfect,” sometimes we can overburden our to-do list and our bank accounts. Spending beyond your means can add to the stress of the holidays. 

While you want to make friends and family happy during this time, consider finding ways to save money on gifts by giving homemade gifts, limiting the amount spent on each gift, or focusing on experiences rather than physical gifts this year. Your pocketbook will thank you after the holidays!

It’s OK to seek professional help

If the holidays are so overwhelming that they interfere with everyday life, it’s OK to get professional support. Family and friends can be great resources, but sometimes, it’s better to find a third-party person you can confide in when feeling down. This may look like a therapist or a hotline for mental health support. 

Holiday stress FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about holiday stress:

How can I ease my holiday anxiety?

Easy holiday stress and anxiety by setting realistic expectations, taking care of your health and surrounding yourself with friends and loved ones who can provide support. Also, consider seeking professional help if managing holiday stress becomes too overwhelming.

What causes holiday stress?

The holidays can be stressful due to too many activities and expectations for perfection paired with a dose of family drama. 

How do I stop stressing about the holidays?

The best way to stop stressing about the holidays is to keep your expectations realistic, take time to rest, and speak to someone about your concerns if needed. 

Is seasonal depression a type of anxiety?

Seasonal depression is a type of mood disorder that has seasonal patterns. Although it is not the same as anxiety, one of the symptoms can be anxious feelings.

When to visit urgent care for stress

While the holidays can be exciting, they can also be stressful. Our holiday stress tips can help, but sometimes, you may want to talk to a professional. 

If you are experiencing stress that is impacting your physical health or want a referral to a mental health practitioner, our urgent care centers are open 365 days a year to help you manage holiday stress. 

Medically reviewed by J.D Zipkin, MD, MA, FAAP — By Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant on December 22nd, 2023