4 Ways to Stress-Proof Your Holidays

Follow these simple steps for a more relaxed and contemplative season.

Medically reviewed in January 2021

Updated on November 19, 2021

Starting on Thanksgiving and continuing straight through New Year's Day, the holiday season is supposed to be a time of gratitude, togetherness, and joy.

For many of us, though? Not so much.

Stress from holiday parties and family gatherings, high-maintenance houseguests, and endless trips to the mall can all add up. And if you're coping with the death of a loved one or other major loss—or if you find yourself alone or separated from friends and family—this time of year can be downright depressing.

But stress doesn’t have to spoil what otherwise can be a joyful season. These simple strategies can help you manage stress, ease tension, and even beat the blues—not just at the holidays, but all year long.

Lower your expectations 
Putting pressure on yourself to make your holidays Instagram-ready is a surefire way to increase stress and anxiety, says Jared Gaines, MD, a psychiatrist at Fort Lauderdale Behavioral Health Center in Florida.

“We can all fall prey to setting expectations way too high,” adds psychiatrist Paul Schneider, DO, medical director of the psychiatry emergency center at JPS Health Network in Forth Worth, Texas.

Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Instead, focus on the quality of time you get to spend with others, whether that’s in person or remotely, and enjoy the moments for what they are.

Admit when you’re feeling overwhelmed
This time of year, it's easy to overcommit, over-shop, and overdo pretty much everything

“Don’t try to take on too much,” Dr. Gaines cautions. Reach out to your loved ones for help, he suggests. If you're planning a holiday party, ask others to bring a dish or to help with cleanup. "This can help you take some of that burden off yourself," Gaines says.

Be realistic and accept some stress
Let's face it: The holidays will always be somewhat hectic. And that's okay, says Gaines. “Sometimes, the stress can be worth it."

To help manage the stress, try making to-do lists, suggests Dr. Schneider. “It gives you a sense of accomplishment to complete a task and cross it off," he says.

Acknowledge your feelings, even the negative ones
It’s not just regular day-to-day stress that can get in the way of a happy holiday. Dealing with the loss of a loved one can also make this a more difficult time of year, particularly if you’ve lost friends or family to COVID-19.

You may be remembering moments spent together—birthdays, graduations, or past holidays—and that can be hard, says Gaines. Instead of shutting down, he says, try talking about it.

Share your feelings and memories with someone you trust, maybe even while looking at old family photos. This can help you reflect on more positive times and cherish them.

In this way, says Gaines, "the holidays can actually be a remedy for sadness.”

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