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Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

POSTED BY Laura Himmelstein, LCSW, Clinical Social Worker
December 02, 2019  
Put these beneficial coping strategies on your holiday to-do list. 

The holidays are a time of high expectations – getting the table just right, buying that perfect gift, scheduling all five parties onto the calendar! It’s the perfect recipe for added stress at a time when we’d like to be more relaxed, reflective and enjoying the time with our family and friends. While it may be unrealistic to think you can make it through the holidays completely stress-free, it’s important not to ignore your own needs. Some simple strategies can help to boost tolerance to stress so we can find those moments of peace and joy, even in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season:  

Pay attention to your diet

Over holidays we tend to indulge a little too often. When we eat or drink differently, it throws us off-kilter physically and mentally, and keeps us from what we need to do. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration, which is associated with increased cortisol levels and elevated stress. Around the holidays, it is extra important to keep your water bottle filled up and close by at all times. On the days when you aren’t enjoying all the tempting offerings at a party or holiday event, make an extra effort to stick to a normal, healthy eating plan.

Ask for help

Accept that you can’t do it all yourself – none of us can. Make sure that you delegate some of the tasks that are not top priority. If the table setting is very important to you, keep that job but hand off shopping duties or bringing up chairs from the basement. Asking for help doesn’t mean you can’t manage it all, it means you shouldn’t manage it all. You deserve to enjoy the holiday just as much as your loved ones.

Set limits

Consider limiting time with family members who trigger your stress, or even declining an invitation or two. You have to think about the bigger picture: are you spending time with them for yourself or for them? Sometimes the answer is “for them” – such as when you want to please a parent who wants to make sure you connect with a relative. In that case, go into it with that acceptance, some politeness – and a few strategies, such as avoiding trigger topics setting a time limit to exit the conversation before stress escalates, or finding someplace quiet to regroup. Another great tool for dealing with challenging social situations is to think of water: imagine their words and actions just washing over and around you. Try to let go and not hang on to their every word or action.


This is something you can do anytime, anywhere, in any position, with a big benefit. When you recognize that you are starting to feel stressed, such as in the mile-long line at the store or rushing to get somewhere, take three deep breaths. As you exhale slowly and deeply, release your shoulders down, and imagine the tension leaving your body. Think of a place that brings you joy. Similarly, before you get out of bed every morning, try stretching for a few minutes or doing anything else that helps you start the day on a positive or luxurious note. Try to keep some semblance of your normal schedule, which may include exercise or another typical form of self care. Even a little bit goes a long way.
Remember, the holidays we see portrayed in movies and TV are fallacy. Most families never achieve that. Good self-care and acceptance is the best gift you can give yourself this holiday season.  

Laura Himmelstein, LCSW, is a Clinical Social Worker who works with patients and caregivers at White Plains Hospital.


Tags: advice, holiday stress, self care
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