Minimize stress this holiday season

December 13, 2021
Stress management
5 min read


Candace Good, MD, behavioral health, Mount Nittany Physician Group


The holiday season is in full swing, along with the shopping, cooking, baking, cleaning, and entertaining that keeps us on the run. While some might revel in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, for others, stress can become an unwelcome holiday guest. By being aware of holiday stressors, you can be intentional about minimizing them. Here are a few tips to help you navigate this holiday season:

Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones for other reasons, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's okay to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season. Don’t punish yourself for not feeling celebratory.

Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect, and they don’t have to be the same every year. Set realistic goals and keep expectations manageable. Pace yourself and prioritize what’s most important to you. If the cookie exchange and caroling are too much, let go of one activity and focus on the one you enjoy.

Set aside differences. This is a tough one but try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't always live up to your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress, too.

Stick to a budget. Making a budget at the start of the season for holiday shopping and expenses can help mitigate financial stress. Before you do your gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. If holiday shopping has become overwhelming, consider alternatives such as donating to a charity or starting a family gift exchange.

Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends, and other activities. Plan menus and then make your shopping list to help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for meal prep and cleanup.

Don't abandon healthy habits. Even though schedules change during the holidays, don’t let go of the things that keep you grounded and healthy. Eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, stick with your regular daily physical activity, avoid excessive tobacco and alcohol and drug use, and consider limiting your social media time.

Take a breather. Make time for yourself with an activity you enjoy. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing, and restoring inner calm. Take a walk, listen to relaxing music, or read a book.  

Reach out. If you're feeling stressed during the holidays, it can help to talk to a friend or family member or seek out community, religious, or other social events. Volunteering your time or doing something to help others can also help you refocus and give you a new perspective.

Seek professional help if you need it. If you find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, or unable to face routine chores, talk to your doctor or mental health professional.

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