The Key to Happy Holidays: 3 Tips to Minimize Holiday Stress

By Allie Lewin, LMSW

With thanksgiving right around the corner, our focus begins to shift from the back to school mentality of fall to the effervescent holiday season that is winter. While the holidays are associated with gratitude and love, for many people they tend to bring out stress and anxiety. Even those who love the holidays are likely to find themselves feeling uneasy at times due to the sheer number or commitments and expectations involved this time of year. Here are three tips to minimize holiday stress and help make the most of this holiday season: 

Self Care

My first tip to staying sane during the holiday season is to make sure you are taking time for yourself, no matter who is around or what you think you need to be doing to make the holiday events run smoothly. When guests are in town, people often succumb to an implicit rule disabling them from leaving the house or spending time alone, fearing doing so will offend someone or will seem ungrateful.  If this belief resonates with you, remind yourself of what happens when you give up all of your freedom. You are likely to start feeling antsy, irritable, and even resentful as you labor away in the kitchen or sit around engaging in never-ending small talk.  No matter what is going on in the house, you owe it to yourself to recharge, whether that means going to the gym or for a walk, nestling in a quiet nook to read, or even meeting up with a friend for coffee to escape the family chaos.  If you can take some time for yourself to stay grounded, you will find yourself being more grateful and pleasant to the people around you, guaranteeing a more positive experience for all!

Stick with Routine

With so much going on during this time of year, it’s important now more than ever to feel mentally and physically healthy in order to truly enjoy the holidays.  Despite the craziness, try your best to stick to your normal routine, ensuring you continue to exercise, get adequate sleep, and eat balanced meals when not taking part in the holiday feast. We are more vulnerable to experiencing negative emotions when we are tired, hungry, and don't prioritize taking care of our bodies.  As humans, we tend to engage in all-or-nothing thinking, which means the instance we break a rule or get off track with our routine we often say "screw it," and give up completely on our intention. Missing a day or two of exercise and getting to bed late on occasion happens, but avoid falling into the trap of ditching your routine completely. 

Set Realistic Expectations

When we think of the holidays, we often fantasize about what they will look like based on earlier positive memories, and then feel let down when those expectations don’t line up with reality. Or we fear drama and conflict, which causes anticipatory anxiety. Remember, life and people are complex and barely anything ends up being as we imagine it will be.  One way to set realistic expectations is to ask yourself, “What’s the best case scenario?” and “What are the chances of this occurring (0-100%)?”  Next, ask yourself, “What’s the worst case scenario?” and rate that probability. Finally, ask yourself, “What’s most likely to occur?” again rating the probability.  Often our minds jump right to the extremes, when in reality, the extremes rarely occur. By engaging in all three scenarios you are forcing your brain to form an assessment based on what’s actually likely to occur (typically somewhere between worst case and best case scenario), as opposed to what your imagination will trick you into believing.  If you can ask yourself what the holidays realistically will look like, and then embrace change along the way, you are setting yourself up to be pleasantly surprised as opposed to let down when plans change and something goes wrong. 

Taking time for self-care, trying your best stick with routine, and setting realistic expectations all play a vital role in maximizing holiday enjoyment. While these tips do not encompass solutions to all stressful situations, hopefully they can serve as springboard for starting the season off right. Happy holidays everyone!

Allie Lewin is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you want support preparing for the holidays or prioritizing self-care, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to see how therapy can help.