How to Manage Holiday Stress

Whether you’re one of those people who charges into November cheerfully double-fisting peppermint mochas or if you’re someone who’d rather hibernate under a weighted blanket until the New Year, stress is an inevitable part of the holidays that even the most festive of us can’t avoid. 

And, the impact of that stress can add up. “Over time, unrelieved stress affects our health,” says Jane Ehrman, a mind-body wellness expert in Cleveland. That anxiety adds up in the form of lower immunity, inflammation in the body, impaired sleep, and even shows up on our skin. 

It’s well-documented that mental stress leads to skin stress in the form of breakouts, dullness, and dryness. Which is why self-care is so important during the holiday season. Be sure to make time for your skincare routine and make some small changes that can help comfort skin that’s been affected by too late hours, fraught nerves, and less-than-healthy holiday eating habits.

Don’t let holiday stress can take a toll on your celebrating. Here’s how to stay festive and calm when handling the three major stressors of the season.

Financial Stress

The pressure to find the right gift can burden your bank account and tax your nerves long-term if you don’t plan ahead, Ehrman says. Then you’re left with the nagging feeling that your gifts didn’t measure up and a credit card bill that takes months or even years to pay off.

To avoid the financial fallout of the holidays, start with some real talk with your friends and family, Ehrman suggests. Agree an upper limit for what you plan to spend on each other, then set your budget before you go shopping and stick to it. Transfer funds to a PayPal or Venmo account and draw from there to pay for online purchases rather than using credit cards. If you’re hitting stores, withdraw cash and leave your cards at home so you only spend what you have on hand.

Keep yourself accountable by tracking your spending. Add up what you’ve spent as you go so your purchases don’t get out of control and you can slow down or return items before you bust your holiday budget.

Social Stress

A packed calendar may be good for the ego, but also taxing on the body. “Social stress wears people out because it can be exhausting to constantly be ‘on,’” says Lauren Cook, a therapist in San Diego and author of The Sunny Girl. Interacting at holiday parties with your co-workers can still feel like work, she explains, and all the parties change up your sleep and eating habits, which can also impact your mental health. 

Avoid burnout and treat your party plans like any other event and block off time on your calendar. Make sure to allow time for travel to take into account the total amount of energy the event will require, Ehrman says. Also, once you see how those chunks of time add up, she says, you’ll realize how you’re missing downtime for yourself and be able to set aside some essential alone time to chill with the Hallmark channel and do a face mask. 

And now’s the time not to sweat the small stuff, says Kristine Blanche, PhD, CEO of the Integrative Healing Center in Northport, NY. The holidays require doing triage on your to-do list. Blanche says if your time is better spent going to holiday parties, forget cleaning out your closet. Find ways to lighten your load wherever possible.

Family Stress

The people who know you the best can also cause you the most stress. “They know what activates us and how to push our buttons,” says Cook. Add to that the weight of tradition and expectations and family togetherness can feel loaded with pressure.

Cook says the first thing to do is set boundaries to manage expectations. “Know what your needs are and execute that plan rather than trying to meet someone else’s expectations for the holiday,” she advises. So, if you can’t handle hosting the big holiday meal, suggest a potluck. Decide ahead of time which family events you can attend and explain that you’re not saying no to them, but only taking on what you can manage, Cook explains. The key is quality not quantity when it comes to family.

Then there’s the tension of potentially awkward conversations about work, relationships, and politics. Distraction can help diffuse tension. Suggest looking at photo albums or playing a card game to avoid some tricky conversations. If you need a break, volunteer to walk the dog or do an activity with the kids. “If things around the table get heated, have an ‘escape plan’ mapped out,” Laura Athey-Lloyd, PsyD, a psychologist in New York City. “Have an emotionally safe person you can engage in a different conversation or a planned break such as excusing yourself to the restroom or to freshen your drink.”

When all else fails, take a breath, says Blanche. “Deep belly breathing stimulates the relaxation response. It lowers heart rate, blood pressure, and relaxes the body,” she says. “Breathing is free—you can do it anywhere. It’s a great tool for stress.”

Don’t let stress make you dread the holidays. Follow these easy tips to keep yourself sane and, dare we say actually even enjoy the festivities.

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