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Six Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

By December 18, 2023January 2nd, 2024No Comments
woman sits next to christmas tree

By J Cangialosi, LCPC, Therapist, Relief Mental Health in Oak Brook, Illinois

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Decorations are up, people are ready to take off work and spend time with family and friends, eating good food, recounting old memories, making new ones, and looking forward to the year ahead.

However, as wonderful as this time of year is, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t acknowledge the holidays are stressful. There’s no way around it: all the things that make the holidays the most wonderful time of the year can also make it the most stressful time of year.

However, this isn’t a list of how to avoid stress, it’s a list of how to decompress amidst the stress.            

How to Manage Your Holiday Stress


1. The Small Things Matter.

Find joy in even the little things. Soft music, whether it’s holiday music or not, your favorite hot beverage, a warm blanket, twinkling lights, or a fragrant candle are all examples of the little things that not only bring joy, but also bring stress levels down. You can make holiday themed crafts or decorations while watching your favorite holiday movie. I’m personally grateful that most of the holiday classics are comedies so that I can use laughter as a way to de-stress. 

2. You Matter.

Get some alone time. Most people will say that being with family is stressful even when the family gets along well. In order to de-stress following family time, make sure you have enough alone time to decompress and be in your own silence. Allow your body and mind to rest after what has likely been a few hours of over-stimulation. This is a high priority for people who have difficulty being with family for any reason.

3. Friends Matter.

During the holidays, spend time with family – if that’s healthy for you – but engage with friends, too. While alone time is great for decompressing, too much alone time can turn into isolation, which can, in turn, lead to depression. Balance your time by spending some of it with your close friends. We’ve chosen our friends for a reason: we like them. Make sure you carve out enough time to spend with those you enjoy being around. Science proves laughter elevates your mood, reduces stress levels, benefits physical health, and improves quality of life overall.

4. Managing Expectations Matters.

Remind yourself to not take things too seriously. One way to do this is to step back and get perspective. It’s common to feel like you’re being pulled in a hundred directions all at once during the holidays. Whether you are or not, that feeling causes stress levels to increase as early as November 1st. This occurs primarily because we make assumptions about what people expect of us during the holidays. However, if you stop and evaluate what people truly expect, as opposed to what you think they expect, you can bring your stress levels down almost immediately. Contact your family members and ask what they have in mind for the holidays. You may be surprised and relieved to find that what they want isn’t as strenuous as you had thought. That’s a new wrinkle on managing expectations: you need to manage yours, yes, but you also need to understand what other people expect of you. This also brings me to my next point… 

5. Boundaries Matter.

Only say yes to what you truly can and are willing to say yes to. Obligation gives energy to stress, anxiety, and depression. When you only agree to what you can and want to agree to, your stress levels decline. Many people will refute this by saying, “My family won’t let me say no.” It may be true that some of your family members may be disappointed if you don’t do things exactly as they want – like staying for a weekend rather than a whole week – but that disappointment is always short-lived and they’ll be okay.

6. Joy and Fun Matter a Ton.

Have Fun! Child-like fun to be more specific. Tap into the joy you felt when you were young. Try to remember how giddy with anticipation you were during the holidays. You can access and recreate those feelings, no problem. Also, do all the things. Go sledding. Go ice skating. Drive around and enjoy the holiday lights. Bundle up, fill a thermos with hot chocolate and walk your local zoo. Find a caroling group and go sing your heart out. Get tickets to the Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy will rekindle that sense of awe and love of beauty, and watching old Ebenezer Scrooge transform will remind you what it’s all about. The old classics and the child-like activities can help you tap into nostalgia which increases feelings of happiness and optimism.


If the upcoming holiday season creates stress in your life, you’re not alone. Literally millions of us are in the same boat. But if you engage in the activities listed here, you’re much more likely to look back and say that you’ve had an enjoyable holiday season overall, and it was, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year.


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