Put More 'Happy' in Your Holidays: 4 Holiday Stress Tips

November 23, 2019

I recently saw a meme about the holidays that really stuck with me. It said, “It’s almost time to switch my normal anxiety to my fancy holiday anxiety.” In that moment, it struck me how common holiday stress and anxiety have become. And it isn’t good for our health. Regardless of what holiday you celebrate (be it Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, etc.), the holiday season is supposed to be a time of happiness, celebrating our beliefs, and spending times with the ones we love most. But, somehow, things have changed—and we are in need of some holiday stress tips to help us navigate this time of year!

What causes holiday stress? Well, we’re now spending this time, which is supposed to be peaceful, stressing out about planning parties, buying gifts, being the perfect hostess … it just goes on and on. The simple truth of the matter is this: Holidays are not about giving the perfect gift or throwing the perfect party. If we really focused on the reason why the holidays exist, we would experience far less stress and far more excitement.

So, if any of this sounds familiar, please take a moment and think about what’s really important this holiday season. So, as my gift to you (and in an effort to help you out), I’ve created a list of my top (doctor-approved!) holiday stress tips to help you have a happier, more peaceful holiday season.


4 Holiday Stress Tips for Happier Holidays!

The holiday season is fast approaching, so let’s not waste time and cut right to the chase. Here are my top 4 holiday stress tips to help you navigate—and even enjoy!—the holidays this year!

1. Stop taking on so much holiday-related responsibility.

Okay, I’ll admit it: The first of my holiday stress tips is a tough one for many to implement. But hear me out for a second before brushing it off.

Often, the No. 1 reason the holidays are so stressful is because we are simply doing too much and making too much of the holiday festivities. Think about it for a minute: If you simply focused on thereason why these holidays exist instead of worrying about being perfect and providing perfect gifts, wearing the perfect outfit, and so on, most of your holiday-related stress would diminish. This is supposed to be a peaceful time of year, so grant yourself some peace this year by letting go of some of the holiday-related responsibility you may be putting on yourself.

You’ll not only be able to relax a bit (and who doesn’t love to have a little down time?), but there are other health-related benefits to taking a break as well! Taking some time to relax has been shown to help those suffering with anxiety, depression, heart disease, nausea, and even IBS. [1]

2. Implement a “reality check” at holiday gatherings.

Look, we all have that one relative who (perhaps purposefully) pushes our buttons. And it’s easy to let it get to you and feel carried away. But the next time Uncle Jack comments on your lackluster cranberry sauce, try not to retaliate with your own biting comment. As good as it may feel in the moment, it simply isn’t good for your blood pressure and cortisol levels to get so worked up.

Instead, try reminding everyone what the original purpose of this holidays was—making sure Uncle Jack is in earshot. And then you can offer Uncle Jack another option with a smile. The bonus here? Well, a 2015 study revealed that practicing prosocial behaviors such as kindness improved the effects of stress and even overall mental health. [2]

Another study revealed that showing kindness can actually help prevent illness. How? Well, when you’re kind, your brain releases oxytocin, which helps to prevent or lower inflammation. [3] As you know by now, inflammation is linked to various chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, obesity, and more.

3. Give your bank account a break.

I know … this is another tough one of my holiday stress tips—especially if gift-giving is a tradition of your holiday or your friends and family tend to “go big” with their gifts. But once the newness wears off, will giving those bigger gifts really make a difference in terms of your relationship? Probably not.

A friend of mine and her husband once decided to cut back on the gift-giving for each other at Christmas. Instead, they simply gave each other meaningful cards and decided to give each other the gift of quality time. They spent the following weekend at home together—doing nothing but focusing on each other. They put away their phones and watched movies, completed jigsaw puzzles, made breakfast and dinner, and even played video games together. They saved a ton of money that year and it’s now their family tradition each year.

Sometimes the best gift you can give is your time and attention. So, if you have young kids, get them in the kitchen with you to bake and decorate cookies, or help them with a special holiday-themed art project to gift to a family member. Instead of buying that $200 toy, offer to take them out for a mommy-and-me day or a daddy-daughter date. Has your spouse or partner been wanting to do something special? Surprise them with the experience!

So, what’s the added benefit here? I’m so glad you asked. Engaging in social support such as quality time has been shown to benefit not only psychological health but also physical health. And, amazingly, one study revealed that providing social support is even more beneficial than receiving it. The researchers found that people who provided emotional support to loves ones tend to live longer than those who just received it. [4]

4. Play that holiday music.

Have you ever wondered why people love to sing along with holiday-themed music? It’s simple: Much like the sense of smell, music has the amazing ability to transport you back in time and allow you to relive some of your happiest memories. It’s not uncommon to hear a song and associate it with a memory, making it feel like you’re right back there again.

Holiday music does the same! So, if you’re feeling some holiday-related anxiety, turn on one of your favorite holiday-themed playlists, sing or dance along, and feel your worries slip away. And, in case you’re wondering, studies have shown just how powerful music can be to help you de-stress. Interestingly, a 2013 study revealed that listening to music following a stressful experience actually sped up recovery time in women by positively impacting their autonomic nervous systems. [5]

Now, it’s important to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that the certain music—and even the holidays in general—can bring up some anxiety concerning sadder memories, such as the loss of a loved one. Grief is absolutely prevalent during the holidays. I know, because I think of my parents and miss them greatly. And certain music, especially holiday music, can cause me to become nostalgic for holidays past and their presence.

For those experiencing these same emotions, I’ve found it particularly helpful to try to reframe those moments as opportunities to remember the joyful times we shared together. It takes some practice, so if you’re looking for more guidance, check out my article on grief, where I discuss this in more detail.


Holiday stress tips - Dr. Pingel


Key Takeaways

  • Thanks to our busy lives and many self-imposed demands, holiday-related stress and anxiety are becoming far too common in our modern times.
  • By focusing on the meaning behind the holiday instead of worrying about gift-giving, party planning, and other responsibilities that come about during the holiday season, you can significantly reduce your stress and anxiety during this time of the year.
  • My science-backed holiday stress tips, such as taking a break from holiday demands, focusing on your loved ones, and reconnecting with happier times, will not only help relieve your stress but also support your overall health and wellbeing.
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