Holiday Stress: Stop It Before It Starts

Holiday Stress: Stop It Before It Starts

What’s the secret to getting through the holidays without becoming a frazzled mess? Be prepared. Be flexible. Be realistic. Try a new strategy to calm the chaos. Here are tips to help you enjoy the festivities sans all the stress.

More than any other time of the year, the holidays place a load of demands on our time and energy — parties, shopping, baking, cleaning, entertaining and spending time with people you may only see once a year. No wonder we feel pressured.

When stress is in beast mode, it's hard to reign it in. This season, try to get ahead of it – especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

The American Heart Association leaving site icon suggests these basic tips for managing holiday stress:

  • Stay active. Make time for walks, yoga classes, outdoor fun with your kids –whatever you enjoy that releases tension.
  • Be brave, say no.  You don’t have to go to every event and get-together. Skip some of the merrymaking when you need a break.
  • Have a plan. Set goals for yourself that will help you stay mentally and physically healthy.  Schedule some downtime or time to talk with a friend each day. Set limits on alcoholic drinks so you don’t overindulge at gatherings.
  • Beware of party perils. Hit the salad bar before you hit the buffet. Eat at home before you go to parties.  Enjoy salty treats and sweet indulgences in small quantities. Choose healthy options instead.
  • Look ahead to January, February and beyond. Create a to-do list and make plans to add small, realistic, changes that can help you feel healthier and happier.
Gift Giving: Keep It in Check

Make a list and create a budget for your holiday spending. Then stick to it. It’s one of the best ways to prevent impulse buys that can bust your budget.

  1. Consider alternatives. Donate to a charity in someone's name. Start a family gift exchange that limits the number of gifts and amount spent on each one. Give homemade gifts — hot cocoa mix in a jar, healthy muffin mix in a bag, olive oil, homemade soap, a family recipe book or scented bath salts.
  2. Put a tech elf in your pocket. Your mobile phone or electronic device can help you stay organized. Look for free apps that can help you keep track of who wants what, how much you want to spend and if you've wrapped each gift or not.
Host With the Most: Planning for the Main Event

Is it your turn to host the family holiday? If so, it’s a big responsibility that might seem overwhelming. Just remember you don’t need to do everything yourself. Why not switch it up this year and let everyone contribute to a potluck dinner? Planning ahead takes some of the stress out of hosting.

  • One month before:
    • Decide which dishes you will make and what else you’ll provide. For large holiday potlucks, the host typically makes the main course (turkey, ham, etc.) and the things that go with it, like a sauce or gravy.
    • Once you know what you’ll provide, invite your guests and assign the remaining dishes. Let them know how many people will be attending so they know how much food to make.
    • Leave room in your plan for guests to decide what they want to bring. If Aunt Mary is known for her gelatin mold, then let her bring it. Just make sure your guests let you know what they’re bringing so you don’t wind up with too much of one thing.
    • Avoid traffic jams by asking guests how much oven or stovetop time they’ll need once they arrive.
    • Ask those who don’t like to cook to bring drinks or other things like extra chairs or serving utensils.
  • One or two days before: Make sure your tablecloths, silverware and napkins are guest ready. Set the table and get out the serving dishes you’ll need. Set up table decorations. Get out extra chairs.
  • Day of: Keep the ice well stocked, relax and have a good time. Hosting a party doesn’t mean everything has to be perfect. Take time to celebrate with your friends and family.

Are you hosting this year? Tell us how you plan for the big day.

Sources: Holiday Stress? Try Our Top 5 Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season, leaving site icon American Heart Association, 2022; Stress Depression and the Holidays: Tips for Coping, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2020; How to Plan a Holiday Potluck, leaving site icon  Martha Stewart Living, 2009

Originally published 12/2/2015; Revised 2017, 2020, 2022