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Six tips to help kick holiday stress

Tracy Woolrich's picture
The holiday season may bring stress, anxiety and depression.

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus Lane. For many however the holiday season brings more than cheer. It brings stress, anxiety and depression. There are things that you can do however to help alleviate the angst. .

Tis’ the season to be jolly…the season for parties, baking, cleaning shopping and the ever present stress. It is easy to become overwhelmed by it all. For me I had to decide what traditions are “have to” and which ones are “would be nice to”.

As a case manager I am invited to dozens of events during the holidays that are sponsored by local Skilled Nursing Facilities, Home Health Care Companies and Physicians. That is in addition to events and activities with my family and friends. I printed a calendar and wrote down ALL of the festivities I was invited to. Some days I have up to three events on the same day. I had to take a stand and start crossing off some. The events that were greater than 10 miles from my home were eliminated. The holiday parades had to go. I allowed myself three major community events and two parties thrown by friends. Family traditions like tree lighting and gift opening are never going to be cut. My daughter’s recital is a no brainer. There is an addition of a concert I have been invited to so therefore the cookie baking may be smaller this year or eliminated all together.

You get the idea here. Add a little and cut a little. It is truly a balancing act. Try not to overwhelm yourself or you will be a frazzled mess by January with a puny immune system to fight off colds and the flu. Pick your very favorite activities and skip the rest.

Women appear to be more stressed over the holidays than men. In a survey on holiday stress, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that women are more likely than men to report elevated stress levels. 44 percent of the women surveyed reported an increase in stress over the holidays versus 31 percent of men. This is most likely due to cultural expectations.

Perhaps you are not with the one you love this year. Maybe there has been a loss of a friend of family member recently or even in the past that continues to leave a hole in your holidays. Acknowledge those feelings and recognize that it is okay to feel sad or grief. It is absolutely okay to cry. Don’t feel you have to be jolly just because it is the holidays. Seek out community events if you feel lonely. If traditional celebrations are too painful try to do something different. Perhaps doing some volunteer work is just the ticket.

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Just say no
Okay, this one can be tricky. I am a people pleaser and find it hard to say no even when it is obvious that I am over extending myself. But saying yes when you should not, can lead not only to being overwhelmed but feelings of resentment as well. You must realize that family and true friends will understand that you cannot participate in every activity. Make yourself a priority as well.

Make yourself a priority
One of the first things to go to the wayside during busy times of the year is exercise and self care routines such as meditation and yoga. Be sure to take time out for yourself even if it is only 15 or twenty minutes. If you cannot get out to the gym try out a new routine on a DVD or TV in your living room. If the weather is nice a refreshing walk may be just the answer. If your mind will not calm down at the end of a hurried day, try meditation or guided imagery to reduce your inner chatter and relax. Your body needs oxygen. A few slow deep breaths can do your body and soul a great deal of benefit.

Planning ahead
As I indicated earlier, write things down. Anticipate what you will need and what you will be doing. Is there a big party coming up? Plan ahead as to what you will be wearing and get your appointment for your hair or nails in place. Are you throwing a party? Plan your menu and make your shopping list as soon as possible.

Stick to your budget
Decide before you go shopping for food or gifts how much you are willing to spend and still to it. You cannot buy happiness through extravagant gifts. Why not donate to a charity in someone's name? Try making homemade gifts or develop coupons promising to spend time with your family or friends? How much fun it would be to have someone “cash in” on your promise for a movie night in January?

Help I need somebody

Perhaps despite your best efforts you still feel stressed and overwhelmed. You may be unable to relax or sleep and feel helpless and hopeless. Seek out help from your local church or mental health professional. If you are grieving, most communities have assistance through the local Hospice. Don’t let it go on too long without seeking help.

Take home message

Take control of the holidays before they take control of you. Recognize you are not a super hero and can only do so much at any given time. Recognize your triggers such as family demands or financial stress and plan ahead of time to combat them before you are in panic mode. With some advance planning you may find yourself rejoicing in the spirit of the holidays instead of stressing over things that have very little to do with the season anyhow.


American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1994.



The biggest stressor for me during holidays is that we've lost the meaning of peace on earth and good will. It is all so commercial. That causes me much angst - so I have learned not to 'buy in' to all of that. My focus is on time off and doing 'things', not giving things to my loved ones, unless I can truly afford to do that. And of course, there is no historical data to correlate with the birth of Christ in December, but that's okay. It's a time to draw back a bit and enjoy each other's company, but without feeling pressured.
I am primarily buying for my daughter this year. For her father I am trying to arrange for us all to do some family things after the holidays. I agree with you Kathleen....I believe we have lost our way.