Don't Let Stress Ruin Your Holiday Joy


The holidays are meant to be a time for slowing down, showing gratitude for your loved ones, and generally taking stock of all that brings you joy in life. So why does this jolly time of year so rarely make us feel that way? Just ask the zeitgeist - the moment the word “holidays” is mentioned, most of us feel a shudder of stress and unpreparedness. Between financing gifts and hosting guests, the to-do list can start to take on a life of its own in an already demanding world. It’s no wonder we feel stressed, when financial and family dynamics are already the top stressors in the United States.1 While these feelings are more than valid, this isn’t the way the holidays have to be. It’s time to reclaim your piece of the holiday happiness. 

Holiday Stress is Real

Let’s be real for a minute: holidays are the intersection of almost everything that can elicit a stress response in your body. While almost comical in its expanse, try to take a moment to look inward and identify where you might be holding unrealistic expectations. Are you attaching your self-worth to the holiday meal you must prepare, or feeling anxious about smoothly traveling to your destination without any qualms? The first step to alleviating your holiday stress is acknowledging it in its entirety. 

Make a List

A new twist on the naughty or nice list, create a list of all the things that are increasing your stress levels this holiday season. Then draw a matrix. Mark the X axis as “Urgent” and the Y axis as “Important.” Start to plot each of your stressors on the matrix based on where they sit in terms of urgency versus importance. This exercise can work wonders for shifting your perspective. The goal is to walk away understanding which of your stressors are actual priorities, and which can take a back seat. Just because something is important, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s urgent. Decluttering your mind in this way can help you move forward with less of the poking and prodding that anxious thoughts can bring. The result: more mental space for what matters most. 

Reclaiming the Holidays

Once you feel clearer on your priorities, here are some approaches to mentally preparing for your smoothest holiday yet:


Plan for it. When it comes to stressful dynamics, you have to control what you can and release what you can’t. If you can plan ahead, take advantage of some buffer time to get on top of your holiday commitments. Whether that’s cooking, traveling, or gifting, relieve unnecessary pressure by completing the tasks you can ahead of time. 


Take care of yourself first. Ever heard the saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup? You are the only one who can truly take care of you. Keeping up with your nutrition and beeing mindful of going too much off track with junk food, sugar and too much alcohol is essential, as all of these can exacerbate any stress you’re feeling. Stay in tune with what your wants and needs are for a pleasant holiday. This starts with the company you keep and the limits you are willing to push yourself to. Remember, fresh air, exercise, and a good night’s sleep can work wonders for your ability to care for and interact with others. 


Stick to your budget. When it comes down to it, gifts are a way of showing affection and gratitude, but they aren’t the only way to do so. If expensive gifts are out of the question this year, don’t stress about it. Your loved ones will understand. Sticking to your budget can alleviate the future stress of feeling financially stretched thin. Do what you can afford and know that your company is what counts. 


Reflect on the good. Leading up to and around the holidays is an excellent time to nurture a gratitude practice. With research showing that gratitude is an effective way to combat anxious and intrusive thoughts, your body and microbiome will thank you. Simply start your day by either writing down or thinking about five things you’re grateful for. Once the holidays come around, this could transform into a group practice where everyone goes around the table and shares something they are grateful for before toasting. 


So if you’re stressing this holiday season, remember these simple practices and know that stress management is within reach. Go on, enjoy yourself.


1 Gordon, J. P. (2016, December 19). Holiday stress: Causes, management, and more. Healthline. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from