20 Tips for Handling Holiday Stress

20 Tips for Handling Holiday Stress

Looking for tips to deal with stress this holiday season? This post will help you cope with your stress no matter what you have to deal with: overwhelm from being too busy, feeling like you’ve lost the Christmas spirit, stress from dealing with family over the holidays, feeling run down from doing too much, financial worries from overspending, and managing holiday entertaining. We’ve got all the tips to help you manage and reduce your stress this holiday season.

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Tips for Dealing with Holiday Stress

If You Feel Like You Just Have Too Much to Do

Give up your dream of the perfect peaceful, stress-free holiday

Ironically, understanding and accepting that this holiday – like all the other ones that have preceded it – will not be perfect frees you from trying to control everything and allows you to relax and enjoy things as they truly are. If your mom always makes passive-aggressive remarks about how clean your house is, your mom will make passive-aggressive remarks about how clean your house is during this holiday too.

Knowing that nothing you can do to stop that gives you the freedom to clean your house up to your standards – and yours alone. Getting up at 4:00 a.m. to vacuum the house before everyone arrives won’t change a thing so you might as well sleep in and wake up refreshed and ready for your guests.

Take the Time to Make Your Bed in the Morning

I never took the time to make my bed in the morning until I met my husband, the neatest person I know. The first thing he did every day was make his bed and I saw for myself how doing that one thing set the tone for the entire day. A nicely made bed is a foundation of order on which you can build the rest of your day.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says of making your bed:

When I was researching my book on happiness, this was the number one most impactful change that people brought up over and over,

I think this works because you’re setting the intention for the day: you’re starting the day by imposing a bit of calm on your environment. When I let this habit go for a while, I always see the rippling effects in the rest of the house: Christmas shopping left out, mail not put away, shoes all over the place. Try it and see if it doesn’t make your whole day a bit less stressful.

Say No Gracefully

I know that seems like such a no-brainer, doesn’t it? If you’re too busy to do something and don’t really want to do it, then channel your inner Nancy Reagan and just say no. But “no” is a really hard word for some of us, including me. That “no” seems like it’s just hanging out there so sad and lonely that I’ll rush to feel the silence by adding something like, “Oh, never mind, I think I can do that for you.”

So here’s a tip that’s worked for me. I call it the “No Sandwich.”

  • Start with gratitude. “Oh, thanks for thinking of me!”
  • Throw in the no. “But I can’t help you move this weekend.
  • End with resources (“You can hire movers cheaply on the corner for $10 an hour.)  or moral support. (“I’m sure you can handle the move all by yourself. I believe in you!)

Phrasing your refusal in that manner takes the focus off of you and why you can’t help and puts the focus back on your requester and, hopefully, sends them on their way to hire movers or ask someone else.

If You’ve Lost Your Christmas Spirit

Take Some Time to Stop and Savor the Moment

Christmas Eve is the crazy day for me. We have a large meal for the entire extended family and then my husband, kids and I stay up late opening gifts and hanging out so the kids can sleep in a bit before heading to their dad’s house the next day to do it all again.

I frequently have to get up at 6:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve so I can start cooking to be ready to sit down to dinner at 8:00 a.m. I actually love – truly love – the cooking, but I can still get a bit stressed if things aren’t going smoothly.

In order to slow down and focus on what’s truly important – the time I’m spending with my loved ones – I’ve started taking a moment at the start of our Christmas Eve meal to stop, look around the table and notice that I’m surrounded by the people I love most in this world. I quietly say thanks and savor just how lucky I am that I get the gift of being with the people I love so much at Christmas.

I have no idea, of course, what your day is going to be like, but I bet you’ll have a moment like that too. Maybe when your teenage daughter crawls into bed with you in the morning for a “let’s don’t speak of this again” cuddle session. Or when your son stands up at the end of a meal and picks up his plate and his grandmother’s plate and takes them to the sink.

When that happens, don’t just notice it. Savor it. Carve it into your heart. Because it’s for those moments we work so hard during the holidays.

Perform an Act of Kindness

It’s so easy to get stuck thinking about everything we need to do before the holidays so much that we forget that other folks may be struggling as well. So take a moment to look around you. Is there anyone around you who could use a little extra care? Taking time to think about someone else can actually reduce your own stress.  But any act of kindness to another person is as good for the giver as it is for the receiver

Sing Along with a Holiday Playlist

Singing gets oxygen in your body, exercises your heart and lungs, and produces endorphins that keep you calm and stress-free. It doesn’t matter whether you can carry a tune or whether people run out of the room when you sing, you’ll get the same benefits. We should all sing – a lot!

I’ve made a YouTube playlist of my favorite holiday hits and I encourage you to sing along to all of them. To make things easier for the lyrically challenged such as myself, I tried to find videos that included lyrics. You can grab your family together and sing along or do it privately in the car which is where I do my absolute best singing if I say so myself.

Playlist: Katy's Christmas Hits
Watch this playlist on YouTube

Slow Things Down with a Family Movie Night

Carve out time during the holidays to spend an evening together as a family watching a Holiday Movie. Most families have a favorite but you really can’t go wrong with Elf. Make some popcorn, settle in and enjoy some sweet and quiet laughter.

If You’re About to JUST LOSE IT!

Play Hooky

This is a little controversial, but what would happen if you took a day off from everything you need to do? Would the world end if you bowed out for a day? Why not try taking one day during the holidays to destress and spend an unscheduled day doing anything that makes you happy.

Drive to your city’s major shopping area and walk around looking at the holiday windows. Go ice skating and then end the day with hot chocolate and whipped cream. Spend the day at the movies. When the day is over, you’ll be refueled and energized and ready to pick up your responsibilities. You’ll be even more productive after your break.

Try this Deep Breathing Technique

Stuck in the traffic jam from hell? Are you behind someone in line returning 30 sweaters and buying 20 more? (This is a true thing that happened to me a Uniqlo.)

If you feel like you’re about to lose it, take a second and practice the absolute easiest yoga technique ever. It’s called Pranayama, or alternate nostril breathing, and it’s basically simply a way to slow down and pay attention to your breathing. No downward dog required and you’ll feel calmer and more centered after a minute or so.

Yoga Breathing | Alternate Nostril Breathing
Watch this video on YouTube.

If You’re Stressed About Family

Reconnect with Your Spouse with a Date Night

Relationship counselors advise couples to schedule a regular date night in order to stay connected as a romantic couple. But the holidays are so busy that even a regular schedule can be set aside. And what’s worse, the season can so easily turn into a mass of obligations that you end up attending side-by-side, but not together: work parties, church services, family events.

So take at least one night during the holidays to have a real date night. Dress up and wear your date-night underwear. See a movie or play and talk about it afterward over dessert and coffee. Take some time to reconnect with your partner.

Plan Your Exit Ahead of Time

You love your uncle but after his third glass of eggnog, he loves to start sharing his dicey political views – and he’s spoiling for a fight. If the get together isn’t at your place, you can announce when you arrive that unfortunately you have another engagement that you absolutely must attend and you’re so very sorry but you can only stay for an hour and a half (or approximately long enough for Drunk Uncle to get half-way through his second eggnog). When the “In my day”s, start flowing, grab your coats and head out to a holiday movie.

You can’t leave a party you’re hosting of course so you’ll need to get creative if someone’s behavior is truly a problem. Maybe you can redefine the event and have everyone stop by for a couple of hours for coffee and dessert instead of hosting a full dinner. Or maybe tell certain folks that you’d love to get together after the holidays because this year is just too crazy. The main thing is to anticipate any issues and make a plan for minimizing them.

Detach, Detach, Detach

Let’s say your drunk uncle is actually your father-in-law and your husband will be absolutely devastated if your family doesn’t attend the entire annual Christmas Eve formal dinner. Instead of letting your father-in-law push your buttons (like he does EVERY SINGLE TIME!), practice the fine art of observing the situation as a disinterested participant.

Instead of seething with anger when he shares his views, try simply observing the situation. Why does he believe the things he does? What happened in his life to bring him to this point? Becoming a disinterested participant can help you look on a person who pushes your buttons as an actual human being, rather than the ogre you built them into inside your mind and help you keep your cool in a situation where might otherwise end up losing control.

Turn Stressful Family Gatherings into a Game

Martha Beck recommends playing Dysfunctional Family Bingo during truly stressful holiday events and even provides a handy card. Create a bingo card full of all the uncomfortable moments you just know are coming and cross them off your secret list whenever you get a chance.

If you’re at all competitive like me, this will turn your reaction to your mom’s annual comment about your weight from seething anger to gleeful victory. (“Yes! I can check that off the list.”) This game could turn your dreaded event into one of the most times you’ve ever had if you play with a like-minded family member at the same event.

Set Your Expectations for Your Visiting Kids

If you’re like me, you’ve been waiting for months to be reunited with your kids. And if your kids are like mine, the first things they’ll do after that welcome home hug is to ask for the car keys. If you expect this behavior from your kids, then you won’t be stressed and disappointed when it happens. It’s completely fair, though, to, pick a time and let them know that they’ll be expected to be home then for a family activity. If you respect their desires, they should respect yours as well.

If You’re Feeling Run Down and Unhealthy

Use Your Slow Cooker to Create an Easy and Healthy Meal

I think my kids would have had cereal for dinner every night if I hadn’t had a slow cooker growing up. If you pick the right recipe, you can take 10 minutes in the morning to throw some ingredients in and come home that night to a cozy house filled with appetizing aromas.

Try some of the suggestions in 25+ Great Crockpot Meals Just Right for Two People for easy and healthy slow cooker meals just right for two people.

Get Outside for a Walk

Walking is a great stress reliever at any time of the year and getting outside during the holidays is a wonderful way to get the blood pumping. Get out there even if it’s a little too chilly for your taste. You’ll warm up once you get going and did you know that shivering because of the cold can help you lose weight? You can burn off that extra glass of eggnog!

If You’re Worried About Money

Set a Budget for Your Total Amount and a Per-Person Budget

I plan for the holidays every year by determining how much I can afford to spend that year. Then I list everyone to whom I’d like to give a gift and assign a dollar amount. This helps me stay within budget by prioritizing my spending: if I decide I want to spend $1000 total, I can determine how much I want to spend on my kids and other family members and then decide how much of the remainder I’ve got for gifts for everyone else.

If I want to spend $300 for each kid and my total budget is $1000, for example, then I’m going to figure out how to split $100 between everybody else. That can be tough, but much less stressful than realizing midway through December that I don’t have enough money to get the presents my kids are really hoping for.

Stay Out of the Mall

It’s so much easier to stick to your list – and your budget – when you’re not being bombarded with tables full of “gotta have it” bargains. The next thing you know, you’ve returned home with Christmas gifts for every teacher your child has ever had ever and a cashmere sweater for yourself that was such a steal that the crime would be not to buy it!

These days, there’s almost nothing you can’t order online and you sign up for Rakuten (and you really should), you’ll get cash back automatically on purchases you’d make anyway.

Talk About Your Holiday Spending Plans with the People on Your List

It might feel like you’re the only person worried about money during the holidays but I can assure you that’s not true. If your gift budget is getting out of hand, have a talk with some of the people on your gift list. They might be thrilled to agree to skip gifts altogether or to participate in a cookie exchange.

Have a conversation with your family as well to find out what’s really important for them this holiday. You might want to forgo gifts this year in favor of one big family experience like a play. Or you could turn the whole thing into a game to see who can give the best gifts on a $10 budget. Having an honest conversation is the start of more reasonable expectations about gifts.

If Holiday Entertaining Has You On Edge

Make a Checklist of Everything You Need to Do

Make a checklist of everything you need to do and when you need to do it. It will help keep you on track and it’s so satisfying to cross things off. Martha Stewart has a nice one for Thanksgiving but you’ll probably want to modify it for your own needs. Here’s a tip I use for my checklist: include what serving pieces you’ll use for each item on the menu. Nobody wants to be frantically hunting through their cabinets right before the meal.

Go with Your Tried and True Recipes

A big holiday meal isn’t the time to try to make authentic Yorkshire puddings for the first time. The very specific example springs to my mind because I once tried to make authentic Yorkshire puddings on Christmas Eve. It was, um, not a success. Your guests will feel uncomfortable if you’re crying in the kitchen before the meal.

Accept All Offers of Help

Ask your sister to bring her signature Christmas cake (again, not a theoretical, my sister’s Christmas cake is the highlight of my holiday.) Get your nephew serving drinks. If everyone is helping, the party flows better and you might actually be able to socialize with your guests.

Let the Grocery Store Help Too

Nobody’s going to judge and, in fact, nobody needs to know,  if the pumpkin pie came from your local bakery. “Outsource” a few dishes so you can focus on the food you know best.

What Works for You?

What holiday stress do you encounter every year? What do you do to manage it? Let me know if the comments!

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