Stress and the Holidays


Holidays are a time of joy and celebration yet, for some, can also be stressful. The stress often comes from trying to create picture-perfect events which can be unrealistic.  If you find yourself feeling stressed during this time of year, the following "Holiday Stress Busters" can help.

Holiday Meals

  1. Plan Ahead.  Have all ingredients on hand and, if possible, cook some of the meal ahead of time. 
  2. Simplify Cooking.  Unless you derive great personal satisfaction by cooking from scratch, people will be OK with store bought food, a few less side dishes, etc. if it means you're more relaxed during the meal.
  3. Let Others Help.  With food preparation and cleanup.
  4. Get Take-Out.  Many restaurants and even grocery stores offer pre-cooked holiday meals. This is a great solution for those who don't have the time or culinary ability to prepare the food.


The holiday season is generally thought of as a time of joy, but for many people, it's a time of loneliness. Some people live far from family and loved ones, others dread going to holiday parties and New Year's Eve without a partner.  Holidays can also remind us of loved ones who have passed away.  

  1. Take Care of Yourself.   Whether you exercise, get a massage, curl up with a good book, enjoy a hobby, or learn something new, take time to do things that will enhance your self esteem.  Limit alcohol and caffeinated drinks. Avoid drugs.
  2.  Rethink Your Expectations.  Realize that few people's lifestyles truly measure up to "movie standards" of perfect living and shift your focus to all the great things you do have in your life. Be flexible, relax, and remember the holiday season only comes around once a year.
  3. Get Connected.  Whether you're saying hello to neighbors, exchanging friendly words with people at the office, or calling an old friend, reaching out to people and strengthening bonds can help you feel more connected.
  4. Give To Others.  Donate your time to help those less fortunate.  You'll be immersed in the true spirit of the holiday season.
  5. Examine Your Feelings.  You may want to examine what's behind your feelings of loneliness, either on your own or with the help of a therapist.


  1. Know Your Budget.  We may feel compelled to show how much we care by how much we can spend.  This year, make a budget and stick with it.  Check lists also help decrease impulse buying. Remember ‘thoughtful' doesn't have to mean ‘expensive'.  
  2. Be Efficient.  If you find a great gift at a great price, consider getting one for several people on your list, if it fits their tastes.  Gift cards and certificates are a great option and remember to include the gift receipts with your gifts. 
  3. The Earlier, the Better.  Don't postpone holiday shopping until the last minute.  If you shop earlier, you won't get stuck in the last-minute rush at the malls and the post office. 
  4. Give Yourself Plenty of Time.  Whether on the road or in the airport, realize that everyone else is in a similar predicament.  Slow down, take a deep breath and be courteous to your fellow travelers.  Bring along items for distraction especially for small children.
  5. Consider Shopping Online.  Online shopping is a fast, simple, and efficient. In addition to saving you the fights over parking spaces and the long waits in lines, in many cases you can have your gifts wrapped and delivered directly to your recipients.
  6. Let the Post Office be your Friend. Visit the USPS website to find out how to get a postal carrier to come to your door, pick up your packages, and deliver them for you.

Family Relationships

Going to a family gathering when there's unresolved conflict, whether recent or from years ago, can be stressful.  With conflict, even if both parties remain polite, feelings of pain and mistrust can linger under the surface.  Bringing up old hurts can often backfire if the other party feels attacked.  At the same time, holding onto resentment can poison feelings in the present. A holiday gathering is not the best time to rehash old conflicts.  

If you feel strained in your relationship with your family (because of sibling rivalry, in-law troubles, favoritism, divorce, etc.) you are not alone.  With families of origin, people often regress to behavior patterns they had when they were younger. It can be stressful to feel pulled toward old patterns, especially if you've grown beyond those roles and they no longer reflect who you are. In the future you can:

  1. Try to Resolve the Conflict:  At a time when all the family isn't gathered, ask the person if they'd like to discuss and resolve what happened in the past. Be open to seeing one another's point of view. See where each of you may have misunderstood the other or behaved in a way you would change if you could.  Offer sincere apologies. This can heal the relationship for the future.
  2. Forgive:  If a civil meeting is unlikely, don't push it. It's probably a good idea to try and forgive the other person and let go of your feelings of resentment and anger.  
  3. Limit or Cut off Contact: If what the other person did was abusive, they have no remorse and you don't expect things to be different in the future, you can severely limit or cut off your contact altogether. This is normally a last-resort choice, but in cases of abuse, it's sometimes necessary for your own emotional health. (2008).  "Stress Management."  The New York Times Company.

Alden, S. (2000).  "Don't Let Stress Ruin Your Holidays: Some stress reduction strategies."

American Psychological Association. (2008). Holiday Stress: How to stay calm during the mad scramble of the holidays.  APA Help Center.

Woolston, C. (2008).  "Holiday Stress."   Consumer Health Interactive.