Practical Tips: How to Reduce Holiday Stress

The holidays are always a time of wondrous joy, family gatherings and good cheer, right? Well, the truth is, the stress of trying to make the holidays perfect can sometimes be too much for even the most jubilant holiday enthusiast.

If you find the holidays stressful, here are some tips from Mental Health America that can help you find emotional balance during the season.

Take Care of Yourself

Make sure you get enough sleep. As much as possible, stay on your normal sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at or near your usual times.

Build in some down time. Planning your time can be helpful. Be sure to plan time to unwind.

Aim for fun, not perfection. You need not take ownership of everyone’s perfect experience. Just have fun together. Make a list and prioritize your activities. Keep in mind you can skip things and still have a good time.

Plan how you’ll cope with stress. Even with good preparations, there may be a stressor you can’t control. Plan how you’ll deal with it. Maybe take a walk, visit your favorite store or put on your favorite music (use headphones if others might object).

Control Stress

Manage expectations. Set expectations for the season that are realistic. There are some activities or projects that you may not have time for. That’s OK. And remember you can’t control everyone else around you.

Avoid putting all the focus on one day. It’s called the holiday season for a reason. There will be busy days, such as Thanksgiving, but think of ways you can spread out the fun.

Accept that there may still be reasons to be sad or lonely. There’s room for these feelings to be present. You may choose to not express them, but accept you may still have those feelings. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Help someone else. Spend some time volunteering to help fill a need that interests you. Studies have found volunteers consistently get back more in positives than they give.

Spend time with positive people. Reach out and make new friends (volunteering is a good way to meet people), or connect with someone you haven’t heard from in a while.

Leave the past in the past. Things in our lives change. There’s nothing to be gained by comparing today to what you envision the past to be.

Try something new. Every tradition was something new at some point. How about exploring new ways to celebrate? Consider having young kids open smaller gifts days in advance of Christmas. They can spend the day enjoying one small gift, rather than it being lost in the rush of Christmas.

Enjoy free activities. Walk or drive around to take in holiday decorations. Build a snowman or make snow angels with children (your kids or children in your family or neighborhood — you’ll go to the top of their favorite people list!).

Save time for you! Take time to recharge. Encourage others to share in the responsibility and planning of activities.

Be careful to not drink too much. Drinking is social but not a good stress reliever. In fact, alcohol is a depressant and can increase your stress. How many times have you heard people say things while drinking that they regret later?

Don’t drink and drive. The National Safety Council says on average 716 people die due to traffic accidents each year during the six days around Christmas and New Year’s Day. Alcohol plays a role in a dismaying number of these crashes.

How much is too much to drink? We have some helpful guidelines you can use to decide how much is right for you. One drink is considered a 5 oz. glass of wine, a 12 oz. beer or a 1.5 oz. shot.

How much can a person can drink and safely drive? The best answer is zero drinks. If you plan to drink, designate a sober driver, use a cab or a rideshare program.

When you’re driving, use extra caution after 10 p.m. A significant percentage of drivers you meet may well have been drinking just before getting behind the wheel.

Address Depression

Just as stress can dampen the holidays for some, depression can also darken holiday enjoyment. It can be especially difficult for people who are alone or have few others to get support from over the holidays.

An effective solution is to take time to build your personal network of friends throughout the year. Seek out organizations or clubs that focus on your interests and pastimes. Getting acquainted with people with shared interests can create a support network all year.

During the holidays, volunteering for an organization that interests you is a great way to connect with caring people.

Some people are susceptible to seasonal depression. The feelings can start in October and grow to a peak in November. If you notice feelings of sadness as the holidays approach each year, visit with your health care provider or a mental health specialist about your feelings. Therapies such as counseling/psychotherapy, medication and light therapy are proven effective in alleviating seasonal depression.

If you’re coping with longer-term depression, visit with your health care professional or see a mental health professional.

Depression is a treatable illness. Your health care professional can recommend a therapy and/or medication that will be effective in helping you live your life to the fullest.

A helpful Holiday Bill of Rights from Mental Health America

You have the right to:

  • Take care of yourself.
  • Feel mixed emotions about the holidays.
  • Spend time alone thinking, reflecting and relaxing.
  • Say "no" to party invitations.
  • Ask for help and support from family, friends and community service agencies.
  • Say "no" to alcohol, drugs...and dessert seconds.
  • Choose to NOT ride with a drunk driver. You have the right to take their keys and to call a taxi for them. (We have tips if you feel someone might have an alcohol problem.)
  • Give gifts that are within your holiday budget.
  • Smile at angry sales people and/or rude drivers and give them a peace of your mind.
  • Enjoy your holiday the way you want!

If you have ongoing concerns about stress or depression, visit with your health care professional. Help is available so you can live your best life.


Source: Mental Health America; Oneida Health Promotions: Holiday Survival Kit

Meet the Author

Michael J. Bohn, MD is a psychiatrist at the Aurora Behavioral Health Center in Wauwatosa, WI.

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The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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