How to Handle Stress During the Holidays


Dec 16, 2020


Need some tips and tricks for how to handle stress during the holidays? Most people grapple with stress at some point during the holiday season. However, with a little mindful planning, your dream of actually relaxing this holiday season can still be a reality. 

At Complete Care, we see first-hand the effects of holiday stress on patients who come in during the holiday season. In the spirit of keeping our communities healthy and happy during the holidays, we’ve come up a list of top suggestions for how to handle stress during the holidays. 

Whether you’ve been frantically dashing from house to house like Santa on overdrive or your calendar is actually more empty than you want it to be, we hope you find the following stress management tips helpful.   

What causes stress during the holidays?

For many, it can be difficult to pinpoint why (or even admit that) they are feeling down during the holidays. But before you can know how to handle stress during the holidays, it’s wise to try and pin down your main source(s) of anxiety and unease and tease out exactly what stresses you out this time of year. 

Some of the more common sources of stress during the holidays include: 

  • An excess of obligations and events 
  • Difficult family members and/or family interactions 
  • Drinking to excess 
  • Crowds
  • Fatigue 
  • Mourning the death of a loved one
  • Financial pressures 
  • Illnesses (cold and flu season) 
  • Loneliness 
  • Not enough time alone 
  • Overeating 
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) 
  • Travel issues

Take a moment to identify which of these holiday stressors tend to affect you most, then keep those in mind when we discuss tips for pursuing wellness during the holidays.  

The physical and mental effects of stress during the holidays  

Stress has physical and mental repercussions on our body. Depending on how your body handles stress, it may increase your likelihood of getting ill, raise your blood pressure, cause aches and pains, or contribute to depression and anxiety. 

The holidays are frequently a joyous time, but they are also often stressful. When they are, our bodies take a hit. For example, research on holiday stress points to increased cardiac mortality and increased psychiatric episodes during and directly following the holidays. 

In other words, when you begin to notice the signs of symptoms of stress, you might want to take a step back and reassess your approach to the rest of the holiday. A little bit of stress is normal, but excess stress makes it more likely that you will experience additional health effects in the long term. 

Find yourself frequently getting ill during the holidays? Check out our articles: How to Stay Healthy During the Flu Seasonand What Should I Do if My Child Has the Flu

How to handle stress during the holidays

1. Plan ahead and write down your plans, including your fun ones 

Not everyone has a packed schedule during the holidays, but many of us do. Even if you feel like planning out everything ruins the spontaneity of the holidays, if you are stressed by how much is on your plate, writing down both your obligations and what you plan to do for fun can help ensure that the former won’t accidentally outweigh the latter or vice versa. 

Holiday parties with work, family, and friends; cross-country travel; holiday gift shopping; holiday grocery shopping; cooking special dishes; taking care of kids who are out of school; holiday movie nights; religious services; pageants and concerts; decorating your home and tree; baking and decorating cookies; crafts and puzzles; exercising; video conference dates with loved ones who live far away; game nights… whatever you do to make the holiday season special, write it down and organize your time so that you make sure your top priorities don’t get buried. 

If you are busy, writing down your plans can give you clarity about what events you should skip or what activities you should adjust this year. In other words, it can make it easier for you to say “no” with a clear conscience, and give you insight into how you should “scale” any projects you may have (baking 2 dozen cookies instead of 6, sending fewer cards, etc.). 

If you are not busy but want to be, writing down your plans can help identify gaps in your schedule and give you ideas for how you want to fill them. 

2. Set a budget and monitor your finances 

One of our best tips for how to handle stress during the holidays is to keep a trained eye on your finances. Special events, travel, gifts, and more can put a strain on anyone’s budget. Instead of ignoring the mounting costs, try setting and sticking to a realistic budget. 

Many communities offer free or low-cost events around the holidays and virtual options can help cut down on travel expenses. If you’re tight on cash, plan ahead (à la step one) for making low-cost gifts such as personalized items, cards, cookies, or giving the gift of your time. 

3. Set realistic eating and exercise goals 

One of the biggest yet simplest means of how to handle stress during the holiday season is to maintain the healthy habits you may already have. Getting some light exercise, eating healthy snacks, using portion control tips, avoiding sugar overload when possible, and drinking in moderation only can all go a long way in keeping you rested and balanced.

Realistically, however, trying to practice perfect moderation during the holiday season is not only difficult, it can be counterproductively stressful. Instead, set realistic expectations and limits for when you will likely want to indulge and then stick to your healthy habits outside of those times. 

4. Have a plan for difficult conversations 

Time with family after a year spent apart can be a blessing; it can also make for some stressful conversations as the days wear on. And frankly, not all families need a big political event like an election to get them going on topics that can quickly become contentious. 

If you wish to avoid stress during the holidays, we encourage you to set aside your differences during this time and commit to staying above the stress. For those who tend to get caught listening to someone who likes to stir the pot, this may mean gently changing the subject or finding ways to remove yourself from the conversation. If you know you’re someone who typically starts or partakes in this type of conversation, try to have a mental list of other topics to discuss when you notice yourself straying into contentious subjects areas. 

5. Create space to honor lost loved ones

Individuals who have lost loved ones often struggle to express or admit to feelings of grief during this typically festive time. But grief doesn’t operate on a calendar year. If you know that you will be mourning someone during the holidays, do not be afraid to dedicate time to talking about, remembering, and memorialising a lost loved one. Consider reaching out to others who knew your loved one as well; they may also want to talk. 

Additional tips for how to deal with depression during the holidays 

The holidays can be particularly stressful if you have a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. If you know that you struggle with depression during the holidays, you may benefit from adding these tips to the aforementioned tips for how to handle stress during the holidays. 

1. Designate a close family member and/or friend as a point person if you’re feeling down  

Some individuals are comfortable discussing their mental health openly with their friends and family. If this is not the case, however, depression during the holidays can be especially isolating. Having at least one family member or friend whom you know you can reach out to when you’re in need can be a big source of relief. This is especially true during social gatherings, when simply having someone who knows how you’re feeling can be comforting. 

2. Remember that depression and anxiety don’t always occur for an external reason 

As mentioned previously, stress can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. In fact, many aspects of the holidays — large gatherings, the pressure to feel and act happy, and so on — can make the holidays hard for someone who is struggling with depression. 

Even so, it’s important to remember that depression can also occur even when everything is going right. If your depression or your anxiety are flaring up during the holidays but you can’t identify a reason why, remember that you still deserve support and should still maintain the practices that help you stay healthy. 

3. Try to drink, eat, and sleep in moderation 

In many ways, this tip is similar to the tip above regarding setting realistic eating and exercise goals. However, if you have experienced depression before, you likely know that it’s best for your overall mental health to avoid partaking in any substance in excess that alters your behavior or mood. In this regard, it’s especially important for individuals who suffer from depression and who are struggling with stress during the holidays to practice moderation whenever possible. 

4. If you can’t or don’t wish to spend time with family, make alternative plans 

Frankly, this tip for dealing with stress during the holidays is good for anyone. If you can’t or don’t wish to spend time with family over the holidays, take a little time to plan out what you will do instead. Many people opt to spend this time with friends or to volunteer. Even if you don’t want to see anyone during big holiday celebrations, you may benefit from a plan for how you’ll spend the time alone, doing things that you like to do. 

5. Have a plan in place for professional help if you need it 

The holiday season can be an extremely stressful time. If you struggle with depression or anxiety, it’s always in your best interest to have a plan for what you’ll do if you have a psychiatric emergency. If you have a therapist or psychiatrist, speak to them and ask who you should call if you need assistance during the holidays. 

If you are contemplating suicide, it is imperative that you reach out to someone as soon as possible. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24/7 and offers free, confidential support year-round: 1-800-273-8255.   

Complete Care: The least stressful way to address holiday injuries 

Knowing how to handle stress during the holidays is a great preventative measure that can help ensure you have a safe and joyful holiday season. In the event that you or someone you love needs urgent medical attention during the holidays, however, Complete Care is here to help.  

At Complete Care, our stand alone emergency room facilities are able to offer our patients with the same level of care as an emergency room attached to a hospital, but without the wait time. We are open 24/7 and are typically able to see walk-ins within a few minutes, not hours. 

When you need help this holiday season, don’t hesitate to visit your nearest Complete Care location today for quick, efficient, patient-centered care.

Get in. Get out. Get back to life.  

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