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5 Tips to Avoid Holiday Stress

The holidays are a beautiful time of the year, but for many, they are also very stressful and can turn nightmarish at the drop of a hat. We've all facilitated or witnessed or heard of holidays going awry and it can be uncomfortable, to say the least.

The darkness that accompanies the winter holiday can lead to seasonal depression, changing traditions can lead to confusion, and lost loved ones can make the season painfully nostalgic and emotional.

It can be especially difficult for individuals to cope with the holidays' many events and responsibilities for folks already suffering from mental illness. According to a study conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, "64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse. 'For many people the holiday season is not always the most wonderful time of the year,” said NAMI medical director Ken Duckworth'".

For many, the holidays can become instantly easier with some simple stress management work and preventative tips. The following are practical and realistic tips to help you better enjoy the holiday season.

Say No

It's easy to get overbooked for the holidays from office parties to white elephant gift exchanges and family events, the calendar often fills very quickly. Connecting with loved ones can be a source of joy and happiness, but it's also important to set boundaries with your schedule. Before the holiday season begins sit down and take time to establish rules about how many evenings a week you are willing to book events, how much travel you feel comfortable doing and how much time you need to recharge between events. Write down your rules and use them as guidelines for your answers to social invitations throughout the season.

Practice saying no and staying true to your rules. If you struggle with turning down invitations you can even establish a good excuse to use with housemates, spouses, or kids so that when you say no you have an easy out and its "verifiable".

Sometimes you'll need to find compromises to being with people but also need to maintain boundaries for your energy. Getting together virtually for a quick call can be a great way to show people you still value their time over the holidays while flexing those boundaries.

Create Relaxing Surroundings

Creating a sanctuary space is always important for mental health and stress management, but particularly during the holidays. That can mean spending a little time cleaning up your home, reducing the amount of clutter, or cutting down on bright lights and noise in decorations.

If you have decorations or traditions that feel outdated or make you feel stressed, try clearing away what is not nourishing. Take note of any noises, colors, scents, or foods that leave you feeling overstimulated or discombobulated and consider eliminating them.

The holidays are also a great time to cultivate an especially cozy space. Lighting a fire, hanging warm yellow Christmas lights or making homemade garland can be great ways to gently add warmth and cheer to your space. I love to diffuse essential oils, light beeswax candles and play Christmas jazz. Find what feels most calming and brings you the most peaceful happiness and take time to cultivate those spaces.

Plan Ahead

From financial choices to meal planning, preventative stress management during the holidays depends largely on planning ahead or being very flexible. For most folks, rolling with the current over the holidays is even more challenging than the rest of the year as traditions and expectations (more on those later) make our approach to events more rigid.

If you find yourself feeling very strung out during the holidays, plan ahead. A key component of depression and other mental illnesses that can pop up over the holidays is often a feeling of helplessness and by planning out your holiday season you practice taking the reins and creating an ideal scenario for your holidays.

Establishing a clear budget, setting boundaries about time and having open communication with loved ones about their priorities can result in less conflict and difficult decisions as the season rolls along.


The emotional rollercoaster that is spending time with friends and family can leave people feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated. Taking time for a breather while in challenging social situations or just throughout the season will help support healthy nervous system balance and cultivate more space for joy.

Listening to your body can be a great way to notice when it might be time to slow down. If you feel very stirred up, taking a few minutes alone to breathe slowly into your belly or even pausing in the middle of an event to do a sensation check-in can help settle your nervous system.

Taking moments to pause throughout the holiday doesn't just make people feel less activated but also helps to create space to enjoy the beauty of the moment.

Release Expectations

A good deal of suffering arises from expectations that are not realistic or don't come to fruition. After you've set plans, practice being grateful and surprised when they happen easily rather than expecting that they will go off without a hitch.

Notice when you find yourself making decisions based on other people's expectations or values. Do you really need to buy all those stocking stuffers? Do you really have to do five different kinds of cookies with twenty stencils or will one or two work? Lean into what feels authentic to you rather than what you may see in media as holiday-worthy activities.

By keeping things simple, you'll find more opportunities for spontaneity and mindfulness throughout the holiday season.


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