7 Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday Season

Close view of a person in a coat holding a stack of wrapped giftsThe holidays are a time for generosity, good cheer, family closeness, and festivities. All too often, however, they become filled with stress due to the many demands we face this time of year. We frequently feel drained and overextended because of the numerous school events, work parties, and family gatherings we are asked to participate in, on top of the hectic nature of holiday planning and shopping.

Rushing around in holiday traffic to crowded stores can take up a lot of our spare time and leave us feeling irritable and cranky rather than joyful. Additionally, we may end up spending too much money, especially as new technologies emerge and children request more and more expensive gadgets.

The holidays are also associated with family get-togethers, which can be very uncomfortable for many people. Taking time off of work can be nerve-racking as well, as projects may need to be completed and deadlines met before we can leave. We might also dread returning to work afterward, as our work may have piled up and we might have a huge email inbox to contend with.

If we have to travel, we can usually expect long lines and delays at the airport and bad weather at times, which can lead to canceled flights or difficulties with driving. Reconnecting with family members can also be challenging for some, as being in close proximity may bring up old wounds or unresolved conflicts. Rather than the warm and fuzzy feelings we were hoping for, we may end up feeling upset and depleted by the end of our visit.

The holidays may be even more difficult to handle for those who are alone. This can lead to sadness, loneliness, and a feeling of being left out for many individuals who are either unable to be with their families around the holidays or don’t have families of their own.

The holidays may be even more difficult to handle for those who are alone. This can lead to sadness, loneliness, and a feeling of being left out for many individuals who are either unable to be with their families around the holidays or don’t have families of their own.

Some level of stress may be unavoidable, but there are steps we can take to limit its impact on our mental and physical well-being. Here are seven such steps:

  1. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn to say no. During the holiday season, we can often bite off more than we can chew with all of the events, parties, and festivities we may have going on. By limiting the number of invitations we accept to a select few, we can avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.
  2. Don’t spend more than you can afford to. Although we all want to please the people we buy gifts for, we also want to make sure we’re not spending too much, then becoming upset and resentful when we are stuck with a high credit card bill. Try to limit your spending to what you can actually afford. You may want to talk to your family about pulling names out of a hat and buying a gift for only the family member whose name you’ve picked, rather than for everyone in the family. Another idea is to make your holiday feast a potluck so everyone contributes rather than having one person responsible for all the cooking, which can be both time-consuming and expensive.
  3. Get your shopping done early. Try to avoid the holiday crowds by either doing your shopping early in the season or on weekdays rather than on weekends when stores are busiest. Making your purchases online can also save time and hassle.
  4. Prioritize work projects. If you are planning on being out of the office over the holidays, look over your workload and focus on completing the most critical jobs first. Leave any that can wait until after your return.
  5. Set limits with family members. If there is a lot of dysfunction or conflict in your family, set some boundaries in order to avoid getting caught up in the fray. You may choose to limit your stay or book a nearby hotel room, for example.
  6. Practice self-care. Try to find some time to pamper yourself during the holiday season in order to relieve any stress you may be experiencing. Taking a warm bath, enjoying a walk in nature, or giving yourself the gift of a massage are just a few of the self-care activities you can do to help yourself relax.
  7. Schedule an appointment with a therapist. If you are feeling sad or depressed around the holidays, don’t suffer in silence. Reaching out for help may be the best gift you can give yourself.

If you feel like the Grinch has stolen your holiday spirit, try using some of the tips above to relieve some of your stress and bring joy to the season. Even a few simple changes might make a big difference.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Wendy Salazar, MFT, therapist in San Diego, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Marjorie

    November 28th, 2016 at 7:25 AM

    I am the world’s worst at overextending myself financially during the holidays. I know that I would have an easier time if I would stick to my budget, but then it doesn’t seem like everything would be as much fun if I had to actually do that.
    So every single year I spend way too much and then I wind up regretting it the whole next year as I am paying it all off.

  • emily T

    November 28th, 2016 at 2:44 PM

    Spending as little time with negative people works the best for me

  • Joan

    November 28th, 2016 at 4:18 PM

    I sort of thrive on the stress of it all. Sadistic of me isn’t it?

  • Ruth Y

    November 29th, 2016 at 11:13 AM

    I used to hate the hustle and bustle of the mall so when I finally learned at my ripe old age that internet shopping is a thing, well let’s just say that this has totally changed how I view the holiday!
    I can look for items that are unique and special for just the right person and not feel like I have to settle for those cookie cutter kinds of gifts.
    Honestly the thought of going to those big shopping places makes me a little woozy, but doing it all from home now, I love it and it makes it all a lot more enjoyable for me.

  • pamela

    November 29th, 2016 at 1:55 PM

    This might sound awfully selfish but I think that there comes a time when you have to look out for you and your close family, that’s it.

    This can’t be a time when you have to spend all of your waking moments worrying about what is going to make everyone else’s life easier.
    You have to start doing what makes things easiest for you. That might not always be the most popular choice but who cares?

    You are no good to no one unless you put yourself first for a little while.

  • nate

    November 30th, 2016 at 10:20 AM

    So maybe I am strange but I actually love this time of the year. I like the manic type of feeling that you have going from one thing to the next and for me it is like a party the whole month of December. Now I will say that living like that always brings a bit of a bummer the day after Christmas fro me, because then you know that it is over and won’t happen again fro another year. But I like the feeling of the season and just having a good time with family and friends.

  • Les

    December 3rd, 2016 at 8:42 AM

    wow I really didn’t realize that the holidays made life so stressful for so many. I have never had that experience, luckily it seems.

  • lazydaisy

    December 5th, 2016 at 12:53 PM

    I am SUCH a procrastinator and every year I swear that I am going to do better and then here I am the one on Christmas Eve either rushing around and buying gift cards or paying outrageous shipping on things that I could have ordered weeks ago and had no worries about. I always tell myself that I will do better but this just seems to be who I am and I am afraid that there may be no changing that.

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