Easy to Implement Strategies to Have a Stress-Free Holiday
The holidays are a time for family, fun, and relaxation—but for many they are also a time of stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed this holiday season, know that you are not alone. Here are 23 tips to help you ease stress and enjoy the holidays. Keep this list handy and choose the ones that feel best for you:
1. Get Exercise: We all know that exercise is a great way to relieve stress. It reduces those nasty stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, and it improves the “feel-good” hormones, like endorphins, which among many things are the body’s natural mood elevators. You may be thinking you need to really “sweat it out” to reach these benefits. Yet, according to Harvard Health, a simple 20-to-30-minute brisk walk will help you benefit. And, if the weather isn’t cooperating, no problem; a little bit of yoga or full body stretching will help you as well.
2. Ask for Help: Don’t try to do everything yourself. Ask your friends and family for help with cooking, cleaning, and shopping. If you are hosting, let others bring dishes or drinks to ease the load-sharing the work and expense. Delegating eases your stress load and gives others the opportunity to serve.
3. Plan Ahead: Planning can take as little as 5-10 minutes, but that small investment can yield huge benefits. Planning helps us look at our commitments, expectations, needs and desires, and right size all of it with the time available to get it done. By doing this ahead of time we can get a clearer road map into the weeks coming up and add a bit more predictability to the equation. Then, decisions can be made that further reduce stress like shopping sales, clipping coupons, or asking for help.
4. Make a Holiday Budget: After you have identified a plan for your holiday season, getting some clarity on the costs will be very helpful. According to Money Transfers, the expected average holiday spending in 2022 will reach $1,802 per person. With the essentials already more expensive due to inflation this can definitely add stress. Knowing what is realistic to spend while you are planning ahead will help to proactively adjust instead of trying to catch up after the fact.
5. Practice Gratitude: It may feel like a small, simple thing, but practicing gratitude has a big impact! There is a growing body of evidence that shows that giving thanks and counting blessings can help you sleep better, improve relationships, lower general anxiety, and improve depression and resilience just to name a handful. Because it helps impact mindset and perspective, consistency is key. Taking just one minute a day will benefit you much more than practicing 10 minutes once a week. Take some time each day during the holidays to think about what you’re thankful for—it could be anything from health to happiest memories from past holidays.
If you are looking for a special place to jot down your appreciation, I have created a gratitude journal designed to be a short one-to-two-minute discipline so you can receive maximum results. If this interests you, click here to check it out.
6. Limit Social Media: Social media can be a great way to stay connected with friends and family during the holidays, but it can also be a source of stress. The perfectly curated life on social media can seriously impact the ability to appreciate all the beauty of your own life and hinder your ability to be present. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed by social media this holiday season, protect yourself and your holiday memories with some clear, thoughtful boundaries. Give yourself the gift of a little time away from your devices and enjoy for yourself offline. You’ll be glad you did!
7. Make Room for Mindfulness: Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment and letting go of worry and stress. During the holidays, take time to savor the simple joys: drinking a cup of hot cocoa by the fireplace, listening to Christmas carols, or taking a meditative nature walk to admire the winter scenery. Like a gratitude practice, this can be done in short sessions throughout the day or you can pause and create a special space to practice a longer meditation. Either way, mindfulness has the power to “reset” our mind, heart, and nervous system and bring us back to a place of calm and wholeness.
8. Create Relaxing Surroundings: Make your home a haven from holiday stress by filling it with relaxing scents, sounds, and visuals. Light some candles, put on some calming music, and surround yourself with things that make you happy. But whatever you do, don’t forget the citrus! Research from the U.S. National Library of Medicine shows that lemon and sweet orange oil, among other citrus scents, have a mood-boosting, stress-relieving effect on physical and mental well-being.
9. Focus on what you can Control: There will always be things beyond your control during the holidays, so focus on what you CAN control instead. This might include things like your attitude, how you spend your time, or who you spend your time with. By focusing on what you can control, you’ll feel more in control of your time, boundaries, expectations, and holiday experience overall.
10 . Make Time for Sleep: Sleep is essential for managing stress levels. There is an abundance of research showing the deep connection between sleep and mental health. In short, lack of sleep can worsen symptoms of anxiety, depression, judgement, perception, mood stabilization, and so much more. If you can protect your sleep, you will be doing so much to enhance your mental well-being through this busy time. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night and create a bedtime routine that will help you wind down before bed each night. Your mind and body will thank you.
11. Accept Imperfection: It isn’t uncommon to experience increased stress because of the pressure to give our loved ones a good holiday season filled with storybook memories. Even though intellectually we may know this is not attainable, we may unconsciously push ourselves to try. With the added anxiety and stress of the season, some will try to cope by setting unrealistic expectations for themselves and those around them. No one is perfect. The holiday season is not about being perfect; it’s about spending time with loved ones and creating cherished memories. Heck, some of the best memories are the imperfect ones! So, let go of any need to be perfect and just enjoy the ride.
12. Find Time to Laugh: One thing that will also help with perfectionism and stress is laughter. The unexpected events that can happen around the holiday might be hard to adjust to in the moment. That is totally understandable. Yet, keeping a bit of margin in your plans for the unexpected can help keep things in perspective and help to respond in a lighter and easier way. In addition, it is always beneficial to seek out those things that bring laughter and joy into our holiday. Spend time with friends and family members who make you laugh, watch comedies, or read humorous books or articles online. Laughter will help chase away the holiday blues!
13. Check in with Yourself: It’s important to check in with yourself regularly during the holidays (and all year round!). Sometimes stress, anger, anxiety, and frustration is building and we are so busy we don’t notice it in the moment. By checking in with yourself, you can often catch rising tension before it gets away from you. To make sure you’re staying on top of your mental health, take some throughout each day to check in with how you’re feeling emotionally and mentally. You can even set a timer if you need a little reminder. And, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or stressed, reach out for support from your network of friends, family, or professionals.
14. Share your Feelings: Studies have shown that simply talking about our problems or stresses with someone we trust can be profoundly healing—reducing stress and even boosting your immune system. By paying attention and naming these feelings, it can help to have them dissipate and reduce their intensity. If you prefer not talking with someone, you can opt to write your feelings down as well. This is also quite effective at releasing those emotions and helping us to find a bit more calm.
15. Pause and Breathe: As with mindfulness, taking the time to pause and do some deep breathing can have great benefits with just a little time. This can be whenever you have a brief moment of waiting, like when you are in line, or minding a dish in the oven. Breathwork has immense physical and psychological benefits such as, increased immunity, decreased pain, improved stress management, higher energy levels and lowered blood pressure. There are many breathwork techniques to choose from, but if you are new to breathing exercises, these from Diversus Health are a great place to start.
16. Respond with Kindness: When faced with stressful situations or difficult interactions during the holidays, take a moment to pause and respond with kindness instead of anger or frustration. It may help to plan ahead for how you want to respond in a difficult situation. For instance, you can pre-plan that you will count to 10 or 20 before responding to something that has triggered you. Or, you can agree with yourself that if something is causing you to feel extra tense, you can remove yourself for a few moments to separate yourself from the stressor and find your center. This will not only help diffuse tense situations and make them more manageable, but it will also give you a sense of perspective to respond in a more thoughtful and kind way.
17. Focus on what really Matters: When it comes to the holidays, there’s no need to overdo it. Focus on what’s really important to you and let go of anything that doesn’t bring you joy. This will help you simplify your holiday season and reduce stress in the process. By keeping things simple and manageable, you may give yourself margin to incorporate more self-care into the holiday season.
18. Listen to Music: Music can be a source of pleasure and contentment and it has been shown to have powerful effects on mood and well-being too. Among its many benefits, music is known to help with cognitive function, reduce or manage stress, improve your memory, manage pain, and help you sleep better. We have all experienced the power of music to lift our mood or soothe our anxiety in the moment. So, make sure to listen to tunes that lift your spirits during the holiday season. Create a playlist of happy songs that you can listen to whenever you need a pick-me-up or a little added peace.
19. Engage in a Creative Activity: According to an article published by Medical News Today, creativity has been shown to benefit us in many ways. Benefits such as increased happiness, reduced dementia, and reduced stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression are just a few. We are just beginning to understand the impacts of creativity on our well-being and mental health. Not only will you realize the general benefits from a creative project, but each type of creative practice often has specific additional benefits too. For instance, dancing can improve blood pressure and writing can strengthen learning and memorization!
20. Moderate Indulgent Eating: It is understandable that we would indulge over the holidays. The options are so tempting and enticing. Plus, many of our traditions and memories are connected to certain foods and drinks. A moderate approach allows you to participate in the holiday, but avoid over doing it. Certain foods, like sugar are proven to have a negative impact on your immune system and mental health. There are many studies showing the link between highly processed foods, high carbohydrates, and sugar with depression. By keeping these treats to a minimum, you will be able to support yourself in a more robust and effective way.
21. Prioritize Connection: The holidays are a great time to connect with loved ones, both near and far! Whether you’re sending cards or planning a Skype call, make sure to prioritize connection this holiday season. These meaningful interactions will help reduce stress and promote well-being throughout the festive period.
22. Give Yourself Permission to Say No: It is understandable to want to do “all the things” during the holiday but be honest with yourself about what you can handle and speak up if it’s too much. You are the only one who knows if it is more than you want to do. So, let others know if something feels overwhelming. Instead of going to four Christmas parties, pick one or two. Prioritize your family’s time and only commit to what you want to do. It’s all about quality, not quantity. You get to choose.
23. Practice Self-Compassion: I saved this one for last because I think it is the most important. We are often our hardest judge and critic. We can put ourselves through the “ringer” trying to live up to unrealistic expectations. The world is moving so fast, and we are running to keep up all the while juggling so many responsibilities and obligations, and then oftentimes we add that powerful, constricting, inner critic to the mix. It just isn’t a recipe for joy and peace. Maybe we can offer ourselves the best gift of all this holiday, a little more grace, self-kindness, and compassion. Maybe this is something we can choose to keep offering to ourselves long after the tree and lights have been taken down.
So, while the holidays can be stressful, there are many things we can do to support ourselves this season. Whether you choose more mindfulness, or music, a creative project or a nice brisk walk, I hope you can ultimately find more joy, love and self-compassion this whole season long (and beyond)!
If you would like the illustrated version of this list, you can download it below.