Tips for Thought

How to Deal with Holiday Stress and Anxiety

As the holiday season unfolds, it’s not just the streets that light up but also our stress and anxiety levels. From the hustle of gift shopping to the bustle of family gatherings, it’s a time that can test our emotional resilience. But fear not! This guide is your companion through the festive season.

Understanding Holiday Stress

Before diving into coping strategies, it’s crucial to recognize that feeling stressed or anxious during the holidays is perfectly normal. It’s a time when we’re juggling multiple responsibilities—gift-giving, travel, family dynamics, and often, financial strain. Acknowledging these feelings is the first step towards managing them.

In addition to the typical pressures, holidays often bring a sense of nostalgia and reflection, which can mix bittersweet emotions with joy. It’s also a time when the lack of sunlight in some regions can affect mood, a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Moreover, the pressure to create a perfect holiday experience can amplify existing stressors, making it essential to approach the season with a balanced mindset.

What happens when one is unable to deal with holiday emotions?

Several adverse scenarios can unfold when individuals struggle to manage their emotions during the holiday season effectively. One of the most common is the exacerbation of existing mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, which can be magnified under the stress and expectations of the holidays. This escalation can lead to increased feelings of loneliness and isolation, particularly in cases where one is physically away from family or lacks a support network.

There’s also the risk of physical health impacts. Chronic stress can manifest in various physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive issues, and sleep disturbances. These physical ailments not only dampen the holiday spirit but can also lead to long-term health consequences if not addressed.

Moreover, the inability to handle holiday emotions effectively can strain relationships. Tensions can escalate during family gatherings, leading to conflicts or misunderstandings. This is especially true in families with unresolved issues or complex dynamics. The pressure to maintain a façade of harmony during these times can further deepen the emotional rifts.

What about children in the family?

Helping kids navigate the whirlwind of emotions during the holidays can be challenging, but with a few simple strategies, you can create a calmer and more enjoyable experience for everyone.

First and foremost, acknowledge and validate their feelings. Whether it’s excitement, anxiety, sadness, or frustration, let them know that their emotions are valid and important. 

Next, establish clear expectations and routines. Knowing what to expect can help kids feel more secure and in control. Stick to a regular schedule as much as possible, and give them ample time to adjust to changes in routines.

Third, create opportunities for relaxation and self-care. This could include reading books, taking a warm bath, listening to calming music, or spending time in nature. Encourage them to express themselves creatively through drawing, painting, or playing.

Finally, make time for connection and meaningful conversations. Talk to your children about their feelings and concerns, and tell them you’re there for them. Open communication and a sense of security go a long way in fostering positive emotional well-being during the holidays.

What are tips for managing holiday stress?

  • Plan Ahead: Procrastination can be a significant stressor. Start your holiday preparations early. Make lists for gifts, plan your travel in advance, and don’t leave everything to the last minute. Consider delegating tasks to family members to lighten your load, and use technology to your advantage, such as apps for organizing gift lists or meal planning.
  • Budget Wisely: Financial worries can dampen the holiday spirit. Set a realistic budget for gifts and festivities and stick to it. Remember, it’s the thought that counts, not the price tag. Look for creative, low-cost gift solutions like homemade crafts or experiences rather than physical items, and take advantage of sales and discounts early in the season.
  • Set Realistic Expectations: Not every holiday gathering will be perfect. Understand that family dynamics can be complex, and it’s okay if things don’t go as planned. Be open to creating new traditions that are more aligned with your current lifestyle and family dynamics, rather than clinging to old ones that may no longer serve you.
  • Take Time for Yourself: Amidst the chaos, don’t forget to carve out some ‘me time’. Whether it’s reading a book, going for a walk, or just enjoying a quiet cup of coffee, give yourself permission to relax. Incorporate short mindfulness or breathing exercises into your daily routine to maintain a sense of inner calm amidst the holiday chaos.
  • Stay Active: Regular exercise is a great stress reliever. Even a short daily walk can significantly impact your mood and stress levels. Consider incorporating social activities that involve exercise, like ice skating or group walks, to blend fitness with fun.
  • Limit Social Media: Constant exposure to idealized holiday images on social media can increase feelings of inadequacy. Limit your social media consumption and focus on your real-life experiences. Use this time to digitally detox partially, allocating specific times for checking social media to avoid constant exposure.
  • Learn to Say No: You don’t have to attend every holiday event or meet every demand. It’s okay to decline invitations or tasks if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Practice setting boundaries respectfully and assertively, which can help in managing expectations from others.
  • Seek Support: If you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious, talk about it with friends or family. Sometimes, just voicing your concerns can be incredibly relieving. Don’t hesitate to reach out to professional counseling services if you find the stress overwhelming and persistent.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help you stay grounded and calm. Experiment with different forms of mindfulness, like guided meditations or journaling, to find what works best for you.
  • Embrace Traditions and Create New Ones: Engaging in holiday traditions can be comforting. At the same time, be open to creating new ones that might bring more joy and less stress. Involve your family or friends in brainstorming new traditions, making the process inclusive and exciting.


Remember, the holiday season is not just about doing; it’s also about being—being with loved ones, being present in the moment, and being kind to yourself. By adopting these simple strategies, you can navigate the holiday season with more joy and less stress, making it a truly festive time for you and your loved ones.