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How to Manage and Lower Your Stress During the Holiday Season

Nancy has over 20 years experience in the administrative support industry. She is an entrepreneur, writer, mother, friend, and DIY'er.

Lower Holiday Stress and Amp Up the Happiness

For most people in the USA, the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving and lasts through New Year’s Day. For some, it even begins with Halloween.

Every year, people everywhere talk about how stressful it is to prepare for the holidays, no matter how they celebrate. The personal stress level of the holiday season even rises for those who do not celebrate at all!

In this article, you'll find some tips for managing stress related to activities such as:

  • Planning holiday gatherings
  • Planning and cooking holiday meals
  • Spending the holiday alone
  • Holiday gift giving
  • Family conflicts
Save money by creating cool holiday decor from things you already have around the house.

Save money by creating cool holiday decor from things you already have around the house.

Causes of Stress During the Holiday Season

During the holidays people get stressed out for many reasons:

  • We spend too much money and try to pack too much into our already busy days.
  • We place unrealistic expectations on the day and even on our guests.
  • Traffic, waiting in long lines, and crowd congestion in stores cause delays in our schedules.
  • Family conflict rises as we all try to get our pet holiday projects accomplished.

As the holiday rush goes on, our stress level rises to such a degree that we feel like we are going to burst.

When the big day arrives, it never fails that something goes wrong, and we rush around frantically trying to put out fires, both literally and figuratively. In addition, ongoing family issues create complications as hot-button topics are brought up, and many people have family members who struggle with some type of substance abuse problem.

Pressure rises and sometimes this pressure cooker explodes. We all want our holiday experience to be happy and peaceful. Hopefully, this article will help you to create a happy, healthy, peaceful day.

An evergreen garland with golden pine cones flanked by antique barbed wire that was out behind the barn and tiny lanterns purchased from the local dollar store.

An evergreen garland with golden pine cones flanked by antique barbed wire that was out behind the barn and tiny lanterns purchased from the local dollar store.

Planning a Holiday Gathering

  • Start early. Realize there is only so much you can do in one day. If you plan ahead, you will feel much more relaxed all season long. Remember to do things like keeping the tank in your car full of gas, to prevent things like running out of gas, or having to wait in long lines.
  • Grocery shop early and frequently. When you try to do all of the shopping at once, it inevitably stresses you out, because holiday dinners can be expensive. Plan your menu and begin shopping early, picking up ingredients and other items each time you shop.
  • Contact family members and other guests to be sure you have the correct contact information. This is also to make sure you are aware of any special food preferences and medical needs, such as being sure you know about allergies or other dietary limitations.
  • If you have children try to organize both play areas and activities for the kids. When combining families, realize and accept that your sister or brother may not parent the same way you do, and that all of the kids will be bursting with energy. Put up any games or fragile items so that things won’t get broken. Enlist someone to get the game down and to supervise play. Many toys and games are quite expensive nowadays, and people may not have to money to just go out and replace it if it breaks.
  • Put a limit on the amount of time teenagers and other children can be on their cell phones, pads, and other electronics. But do this several days in advance. Give them time to get used to the fact that you expect them to interact face-to-face with family and guests and to let all their friends know they won't be available as much as usual.
  • Delegate wisely. If you know that you want specific things done in a specific way, do not delegate those tasks. Do those things yourself. Only delegate tasks that are within each person’s skill set, and go over this ahead of time with each one. Give reminders as the day gets nearer. This way, you can relax a little more knowing that everyone knows his or her job. Even little kids can help, but remember that the little ones need supervision and lots of reminders.
This is an image of traditional style holiday decor. Imperfections in the finish of the antique add to the charm. Reduce your worry about your own holiday decor by allowing imperfections and remembering that you don't always have to reach the stars.

This is an image of traditional style holiday decor. Imperfections in the finish of the antique add to the charm. Reduce your worry about your own holiday decor by allowing imperfections and remembering that you don't always have to reach the stars.

Cooking the Holiday Meal

  • Prepare ahead of time. Chop fruits and vegetables a couple of days prior to the meal and keep them in baggies or sealed containers. Potatoes for cold potato salad or scalloped potatoes can be boiled the day before. Deserts, pies, and cookies can be made during the week before the holiday event and frozen or kept in containers.
  • Remember to read the thawing instructions for your turkey, ham, or cut of beef. There is nothing so stressful as finding out the large hunk of meat or poultry is still frozen when you go to stick it in the oven at six in the morning, and you were planning on having dinner on the table by two in the afternoon. When that happens, you have to punt, pass, or kick, which in my house means boil it! You can get it cooked, but it may or may not brown.
  • Other stress reducers include making sure you have enough pots, pans, and serving dishes. Do this early so that if you need to borrow or buy a couple of dishes you have time to get that done.
  • Write down your menu. Make the ingredient list, and check it two or three times.
  • If you are planning on serving a dish you haven’t cooked before, take a practice run a few weeks before. This way, if you mess up, you can figure out what your mistake was before the big day, not after everyone digs into the disastrous dish.
Image of a Thanksgiving turkey that is brown on the outside, but not done on the inside. The temperature was lowered and cook time was added by adding water to the pan and keeping the bird covered. The meal was delayed by about two hours.

Image of a Thanksgiving turkey that is brown on the outside, but not done on the inside. The temperature was lowered and cook time was added by adding water to the pan and keeping the bird covered. The meal was delayed by about two hours.

One of my best Christmases as a child was the year Sassy, our cat, climbed the Christmas tree and knocked it over. We children laughed with glee!  Our mother did not.  My father laughed the hardest, which seemed to make Mom even more grim.

One of my best Christmases as a child was the year Sassy, our cat, climbed the Christmas tree and knocked it over. We children laughed with glee! Our mother did not. My father laughed the hardest, which seemed to make Mom even more grim.

Holiday Gift Giving

We all want to see our kids smiling in delight as they open gifts, but the truth of the matter is that when we go in debt to heap up a big pile of expensive gifts, we increase our stress load exponentially. And we teach our kids that the holiday is about the gifts. It is natural and normal for parents to want to provide for their children, but maybe it is time to walk it back a little.

If you are experiencing financial hardship, why not try a homemade Christmas? Spending one Christmas where everyone, Mom and Dad included, must make gifts for one another could not only teach your children a valuable life lesson, but also turn out to be the Christmas you remember for a lifetime because it was the best one ever.

As long as a gift is thoughtful and given from a place of love and kindness, it really shouldn’t matter if it is handmade, or even purchased secondhand. The recipient will cherish it, and if they do not, just trust that someday they will understand.

So many adults get so caught up in wanting their kids to have all the latest styles and electronics that they will spend thousands of dollars that they just cannot afford to spend. Sticking to a budget will not only reduce financial stress, but increase the security of your family.

A beautiful snowfall can increase your stress level when trying to run all those special errands. Remember to allow lots of extra time—even if you don't have snow! All of the extra holiday traffic, both in stores and out eats up hours of time.

A beautiful snowfall can increase your stress level when trying to run all those special errands. Remember to allow lots of extra time—even if you don't have snow! All of the extra holiday traffic, both in stores and out eats up hours of time.

Family Conflict During Holidays

Every family has hot-button issues. Most can agree to put those disagreements aside for one day. However, the stress of the day can take its toll. And in the event that someone gets offended or feels betrayed, remember that arguing, slamming the pots and pans, or pressing your point isn’t going to keep the peace. There are several things you can try in these tense situations. Offer to break away for a few minutes to listen to the complaint.

After listening for a few minutes, you will be able to gauge the severity of the situation. Explain that you care and want to help, but offer to get together another day. And mean it. Follow through. Avoid statements like, “Now is not the time for this.” This puts the other person even more on edge. Reaffirm your love and caring. Express hope that things will work out for this individual. Try to steer the conversation so that topics are light and everyone is included before the grievances start to come out.

If it is too late for that, and everyone is shouting and picking at one another, don’t be afraid to lay down the law. Bang on a pan if you have to, but get everyone’s attention and let them know in no uncertain terms that enough is enough—and they can resume the fight after the holiday, but in this moment the fighting stops immediately.

Then resume your activity with a smile and say something like, “Now, let’s eat!” or a directive like, “Everybody come to the table,” or “Will somebody please pass the potatoes.”

The quest for the perfect holiday is just that: a quest

If you want to reduce your stress level during this time of year, strive not for perfection, but for peace, acceptance, and fun. Remember that it isn’t the day or the amount of money you spend that makes the holiday. It is OK to make mistakes. If you surround yourself with good and decent people, and take care of the little things, the big things can be taken in stride.

Thank you for reading this article. Hopefully, something here is helpful to your situation. Please let me hear from you in the comments. Let me know your opinion or even your criticism. Most of all though, I wish you and all those you love a very special holiday season.

These pies were a little overdone, but the crusts were easy to chew, if a bit crumbly. The pies tasted great, and nobody seemed to notice or care.

These pies were a little overdone, but the crusts were easy to chew, if a bit crumbly. The pies tasted great, and nobody seemed to notice or care.

© 2017 Nancy Owens

Comments

Nancy Owens (author) from USA on October 25, 2017:

I am such an egit! I guess I can not read this morning and replied as if you had read a different article. Please forgive my idiocracy.

Nancy Owens (author) from USA on October 25, 2017:

Thank you for stopping by! Getting to host the family holiday gathering is a rite of passage, and a whole lot of work. Hopefully this will help some young person to have things come off without a hitch.

Mike and Dorothy McKenney from United States on October 25, 2017:

Your article is great. Holidays are very stressful for most people. My children are in South Carolina and Alaska, so stress for me seems to be constant. Keep up the good work...just reading your article helps.

Nancy Owens (author) from USA on October 12, 2017:

Hello, Friend. It has been too long! Thank you for reading and for the very kind words. Hopefully, someone out there will have a better time of things during this time of year.

Since I am currently on a writing roll, I decided to just work on that for a while, then make the rounds with everyone on their pages. When I try to do both simultaneously, I go down a bunch of rabbit holes and forget to finish my work, Lol! Looking forward to reading about what you have been up to.

RTalloni on October 11, 2017:

A delightful post with lots of good tips to consider using. There are many reasons why some people spend a holiday alone, but you are right, if an invitation is given accepting it is a lovely response.