Tips to handle holiday stress

The end of the year comes with plenty to look forward to, but it can also mean that holiday stress is right around the corner. While we can’t always prevent the stress of the holidays, we can at least be prepared to manage it.

Tips to handle holiday stress

Unmanaged stress can have negative effects on health. Holiday stress can show up in a number of 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 into place and make this year different and help prevent anxiety.

Set realistic goals

While having a plan is good, going overboard can set us up for failure. Instead, set realistic goals that you know are achievable. For example, if you’re planning a party and are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of food you’ll 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 and family and coworkers that cause you to stress, don’t attend all of them. Instead, prioritize a couple that is the most important to you and wish the rest well. 

Be in the moment

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. It often feels like it’s one thing after another. This can understandably create added stress that interferes with the ability to enjoy the moment. Instead, take each moment as it comes. Reap the rewards of the planning ahead you did, so you can sit back and relax. People don’t remember all of the details, they remember how they felt when they spent time with you. 

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep makes everything harder. Likewise, low energy makes it difficult to think straight, plan meals, cook, shop for gifts, or schedule events. 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 you need to. 

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. The entrée will get burned, guests will cancel at the last minute, you’ll forget to do things on your task list, the electricity will go out and the dog will chew the shoes. Expect that at least one thing will go wrong. This way, 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 alive that you enjoy 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.

Surround yourself with supportive friends/family

Most people have some idea of how stressful holidays can be and can empathize with one another in that way. Particularly if the holidays are an overwhelming or sad season, make sure to spend time with people you actually like. As your gathering 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. 


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 key 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.

It’s ok to seek professional help

If the holidays are overwhelming to a degree that they are interfering with everyday life, it’s okay 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. 

Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant