7 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. In fact, 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.

7 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, it is essential to build calm into your day. 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. In fact, 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.

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. In fact, 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 a number of reasons. For some of us, it is related to the increase in 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.  

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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.

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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 really 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. 

If All Else Fails, Try a Sober Month

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 resides in upstate New York. She especially enjoys writing about health, wellness and living your best life.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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