How To Reduce Stress During the Holiday Season
Managing holiday stress doesn’t have to be complicated. We share expert tips and advice to help you succeed.

Written by Shorey Andrews

Published on December 7, 2022
A white woman looks out the window at a dreary winter day.

As we head into the busiest time of the year, it’s essential to take a deep breath and give some thought to how you want to approach the festive season. We spoke with Nadine Carey, a registered psychotherapist, about how to lower stress around the holiday and what it means to determine how you want to show up this year. 

Carey explains, “It comes back to expectations and the type of pressure we place on ourselves. It’s important to remember that if we are going to have heightened stress around the holiday (which is a reality that most of us can’t escape), we can reduce it by finding ways to mitigate it to some degree.” 

7 ways to decrease stress and make the most of the holiday season 

Perhaps the most sound advice about managing stress during the holidays is accepting that it will be a stressful period regardless. Carey suggests, “If we can be honest about stress showing up during this period of time and not make ourselves wrong for it, that can be really helpful.” Here are seven ways to mitigate stress and enjoy what the season has to offer.

1. Understand how stress shows up in the mind and body 

Before we can manage our stress, we need to understand better what it is and how it shows up in the mind and body. Carey describes stress as both a physiological (body) and psychological (mind) response. 

“Physiologically, stress presents itself by releasing hormones and chemicals in our body that causes us to feel certain things. For example, when cortisol and adrenaline are released, it can cause things like your heart racing quickly, temperature changes, butterflies, etc. Psychologically, our mind tries to figure out what’s going on with the body. This can cause brain fog or confusion, difficulty making decisions and a general sense of feeling overwhelmed.” Carey explains. 

We need to be aware that physiological and psychological stress responses are interconnected, so learning to manage both is important for controlling our stress levels.

2. Take breaks from social media and tune in with yourself 

Carving out dedicated time to put your phone down and focus on the people around you will help you stay in tune with your reality instead. Carey describes how we can reframe our thinking around perceptions of reality online. 

“The expectations we place on ourselves and the stories we tell ourselves — like what we think Christmas should look like or feel like — can be really stressful, especially when viewed through the lens of social media. Our memories, especially those who don’t have fond or great memories around this time, can often feel triggered by things we see across social media, where others share happy memories and experiences.” 

3. Ask yourself: “what do I need this holiday season?” 

It’s important to acknowledge that despite your best efforts, the holidays are simply going to be busy. During this hectic season, it can be helpful to think ahead and ask yourself the golden question: “what do I need?” 

Carey expands on this concept, stating, “I often suggest to people prior to going into the holidays to sit with the wisest part of yourself. This is the thinking part, the frontal cortex part of your brain, and creates commitments or intentions about how you want the holidays to look. For example, ‘I’m going to make sure I sleep well three nights of the week’ or ‘I’m going to make sure I drink in moderation.’ Setting intentions allows us to have a plan using the wisest part of ourselves as opposed to being overwhelmed by the time the holidays hit.” 

4. Be realistic and open about your holiday spending budget 

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment of spending more than you can afford on gifts for loved ones, but Carey recommends asking yourself what it would feel like in February if you wrack up your credit card during the holiday. “Having a clear budget and recognizing that it might feel uncomfortable not to spend more and understanding how to sit with that discomfort and learning how to be OK with that is helpful,” says Carey. 

In addition to being honest with yourself, Carey suggests having honest conversations with others. “Have open conversations with friends and family about how (the holidays) will operate this year so everyone has clear expectations and you can avoid disappointment. It doesn’t have to be about money. Think outside the box to create things that cost less or nothing.”

5. Know when it’s time to take a break

The holidays should be about having fun and creating connections. If you wake up every day exhausted, dreading what’s coming or not experiencing any joy — it might be time to consider a break. 

“Your brain and body are going to let you know that you need a break based on how overwhelmed or confused you may feel. If you know what the physiological and psychological triggers are to stress and be aware that it’s happening within you, it does provide an opportunity to pause and take a breath to tell yourself, ‘I am OK’ or ‘I am safe at this moment,” suggests Carey.

6. Avoid comparing yourself to others 

As everyone around you begins to celebrate in different ways, you may find yourself in comparison mode — focussing more on what the folks around you are doing or contributing to the season. In cases such as this, asking yourself how you want to show up can be helpful. 

“Maybe you can’t attend all of the events or bake things from scratch — whatever the comparison is — but where do you show up? It’s about learning when to say “no” and finding other ways to show up, like a phone call or holiday card — there are different ways to show up at this time. Our brain is really good at telling us what we can’t do, so we need to ask ourselves, ‘what can I do?’ and that’s how we determine different ways to show up,” says Carey.

7. Share how you’re feeling with people you trust

In times of stress, having the ability to share how you’re feeling with someone who can hold space is helpful. Carey emphasizes that there is courage in vulnerability.

“If you can share with one person that you’re stressed or tired and feeling overwhelmed, as an example, it’s amazing how that vulnerability opens a door for others to share with you. This helps us feel less alone and creates a connection. Our ability alone to speak out loud about how we are feeling decreases our stress response. It decreases it even more if we can do it with someone who can validate us.” 

The holidays can be tough on all of us for different reasons. The tips in this article will help you plan ahead and determine what you need this holiday season and how to show up in a way that best serves you. Whatever you’re experiencing, know that reaching out for additional help and resources during high times of stress and anxiety is always an option.

Disclaimer: This article contains guidelines or advice not intended to self-diagnose or treat. No content should be used as a substitute for direct advice from a qualified professional such as your doctor or mental health professional. Please reach out for support with a certified professional related to the symptoms you may be experiencing.

If you are in crisis and require immediate support, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. Alternately, please contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1 833 456-4566 (en tout temps). 1-833-456-4566 (24/7). For residents of Québec, call1 866 APPELLE (1 866 277-3553).

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