10 Tips For Managing Holiday Stress

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The holidays are just around the corner, so if your stress levels are starting to rise, you are not alone! Just thinking about an endless to-do list (shopping, baking, decorating, socializing, etc.) is enough to overwhelm us. Not to mention the strain of spending time with those not-so-favorite relatives. Or in some cases, it is loneliness, isolation, and sadness that are the culprits. 

Many people overdrink, overeat, or fall back on other unhealthy coping mechanisms to get through the holidays. But binge drinking, unhealthy eating, holiday stress, and lack of sleep can be a toxic combination for your health. So many people experience cardiovascular issues from stress and excess during December that the term “holiday heart syndrome” was coined to describe the problem.1

Of course, most people won’t experience such serious consequences from holiday pressure. But late November is a great time to look at some ways to reduce stress over the holidays, keep your health intact, and avoid the January slump. Managing holiday stress is easier than you might think if you are willing to make a few minor changes! Here are some holiday stress tips to keep this time of year more joyful than grueling.

10 Tips For Reducing or Coping With Holiday Stress

1. Take breaks 

woman with shopping bags taking a break on couch
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels

The hustle and bustle of traffic, crowded stores, and social obligations can transform the joy of the season into a nightmare. To tame any anxiety and overwhelm, building calm into your day is essential. Set aside time for 1-5 minute breaks whenever you start feeling stress creeping in. Use this time to do some deep breathing, listen to music, do yoga, write in your journal, take a nature walk, or do whatever brings you peace and tranquility. 

2. Set boundaries 

It is OK to say no! It is easy to cave into pressure and feel guilty when family and friends are being insistent about their holiday expectations. But you are not obligated to celebrate their way. 

You can politely decline parties or gatherings that you are not interested in attending. Likewise, you don’t have to eat the fudge that your neighbor insists you try or feel pressured to do shots with your cousins. You can practice what to say ahead of time. For example, “Can I wrap up a piece to go?” or “I have to get up early, so it’s a no for me this time.”

3. Get moving 

Never underestimate the positive impact of exercise. We often think about the physical benefits, but there are many mental benefits as well.2 Exercise not only boosts fitness and energy but also reduces tension and fatigue. When we get moving, we activate those feel-good neurotransmitters. 

Choose an activity you enjoy, like cycling or swimming. Something as simple as taking a daily walk at lunchtime can make a big difference in how you feel. You can also find many free tutorials online, from yoga to Zumba and everything in between. Sneak in some extra steps by taking the stairs, or parking further from the building.

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4. Eat healthy 

We all need to brace ourselves for the edible temptations of the season. From cookies and fudge in the break room to family gatherings complete with rich dishes and plentiful desserts. 

Many of us can easily consume greater than normal quantities of sugar, salt, and fat if we are not mindful. It is not uncommon to throw the diet out the window until January 2nd. So although it’s not realistic to avoid all goodies, think moderation. Have one cookie instead of three. Cut your portion sizes in half. Stock your fridge with fruits and veggies. Bring healthy snacks to work, like nuts, carrot sticks, hummus, and whole grain crackers. Drink lots of water. 

5. Limit alcohol 

As with our eating patterns, drinking habits can also change this time of year. This can occur for several reasons. For some of us, it is related to increased social gatherings where drinks are flowing. For others, alcohol is a way to cope with the stress and negative emotions that can occur during the holiday season. 

In either scenario, too much alcohol can be problematic. If that is the case, skip events where you know there will be heavy drinking or triggering situations. Consider other activities like ice skating, a movie, or a game night. Or if you do attend a social gathering, you can bring a delicious nonalcoholic drink to share.  

8 Easy & Delicious Nonalcoholic Drink Recipes

Trying to avoid alcohol? Looking for new things to serve or drink over the holidays? Download these 8 easy-to-make nonalcoholic drink recipes.

Mocktail Download

6. Let go of perfection 

happy holiday family gathering around dinner table
Photo by Nicole Michalou on Pexels

Sometimes we place unrealistic expectations around how to “holiday.” Maybe because of societal or cultural influences. Or maybe because we don’t want to disappoint our family. But the truth is there are no rules on how to celebrate. You can do as much or as little based on what brings you joy and what matters to you. 

Perhaps you want to have a meal with your immediate family instead of hosting an elaborate dinner. Or you can suggest drawing names for gift-giving rather than buying presents for numerous relatives. Try not to lose the true meaning of the season, and show yourself the same grace you show others.

7. Help others or volunteer 

Oftentimes people feel depressed this time of year. Perhaps you are missing loved ones, or grieving a broken relationship. One of the best things you can do to feel better is to help others who are in need. Consider volunteering in a community kitchen, food cupboard, or participating in a clothing drive. Maybe you have an elderly neighbor who needs their driveway shoveled or would like to chat for a few minutes over a cup of tea. 

8. Plan a Budget

Managing financial stress is crucial during the holidays. Overspending can lead to post-holiday regret and stress. Planning a budget helps you stay in control of your finances, ensuring you enjoy the festivities without the burden of financial strain. Set a realistic budget for gifts, food, and entertainment. By doing this, you can avoid the trap of impulsive buying and reduce the stress associated with financial over-indulgence.

9. Practice Mindfulness or Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation can be powerful tools for managing stress. These practices help you stay present and grounded, reducing the whirlwind of holiday activities and expectations. Techniques like deep breathing, guided imagery, or simple mindfulness exercises can provide a much-needed mental break. Incorporating these practices into your daily routine can help you maintain a sense of calm and balance amidst the holiday chaos.

10. Keep Sight of What Matters

It’s easy to get lost in the endless to-do lists and social obligations of the holidays. However, focusing on what truly matters—like spending time with loved ones, creating positive memories, and enjoying the spirit of the season—can bring a sense of fulfillment and joy. It’s important to remember that the holidays are not just about completing tasks but about cherishing moments with family and friends. Letting go of unnecessary pressures and embracing simple pleasures can significantly reduce stress and enhance your holiday experience.

Try a Sober Month to Start the New Year

If you find yourself drinking more during the holidays, either due to stress or just increased socializing, consider a fresh start in January. Dry January, which involves cutting out alcohol for the full month, has many benefits. These can include lower blood pressure, healthier skin, weight loss, improved liver health, and better sleep. Your bank account will thank you as well. You may love the results so much that you continue to abstain, or at least limit your intake. 

Support Is Available For Holiday Stress-Drinking

Ria Health provides support to change your drinking habits long-term, through the convenience of an app on your smartphone. Ria’s members get access to expert medical advice, weekly coaching meetings, as well as prescription medications to help reduce the urge to drink.

Learn more about Ria, or schedule a call today with no obligation to join.


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Written By:
Lisa Keeley
Lisa Keeley is a freelance writer who believes in the uplifting power of words. She especially enjoys writing about health, relationships, employment, and living one’s best life. Lisa has a Master’s in Education and previously worked in vocational and educational services. Her articles can be found on Your Tango, Thrive Global, Heart to Heart, Medium, Muck Rack, and on various professional websites.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.

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