Do your shoulders instantly tense up at the thought of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season? Does your heart skip a beat when you think about spending the entire day with your extended family during the most wonderful time of the year? Does the thought of holiday overspending keep you up at night?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone. Money and family responsibilities are some of the top sources of stress in the United States.

Before the stress of the holidays sneaks up on you, read on to learn how to enjoy your most stress-free holiday season yet.

Holiday stress can affect anyone, even children.

There are a lot of expectations around the holidays. Many people associate the holidays with social gatherings, rituals, and happy memories. These expectations can lead to stress.

It can quickly become overwhelming to make every meal award-worthy and every wrapped gift look perfect. Finding the time to attend every party or feeling like you haven’t been invited to enough parties can also cause stress.

There’s also a desire to cram in every tradition and event to make sure each day is memorable. When you add in the financial burden, travel, and visiting family members, stress can pile up quickly.

The holidays can also be a difficult time of year for people who have lost friends and family members. The memory of the loss can make it harder to cope with holiday season stressors.

Holiday stress looks much the same as regular day-to-day stress. It can affect the body in many different ways. Symptoms can include the following:

  • anxiety
  • sadness
  • headaches
  • body aches
  • inability to sleep
  • irritability

Want to learn more about stress? The effects of stress on the body »

There are ways to deal with holiday stress, but first, you need to understand your triggers.

Do certain situations cause you to feel overwhelmed? When you feel stressed, stop and try to consider what may be causing your anxiety. Once you understand your triggers, use these simple tips to limit holiday stressors.

1. Plan ahead

Finding time for all of your holiday activities can be tricky. On top of holiday commitments, you may also have to deal with increased traffic. Or you may feel extra pressure to get ahead of work so you can take time off to travel.

Creating an action plan can help relieve stress.

Write down all the things you need to do so you can prioritize the things that are most important. A list also makes it harder for things to slip your mind.

2. Put yourself first

The act of giving gets so much attention during the holidays it can be easy to forget to give back to yourself. Taking care of yourself can help make it easier for you to take care of others.

Set aside some time to do things you enjoy. Find time to exercise, plan a dinner out, or just get a few minutes of fresh air. And don’t forget the importance of a regular good night’s sleep.

Read more: Exercise as stress relief »

3. Keep your finances in check

If you’re worried about spending and how it will affect you after the holidays are over, be realistic about what you can afford. The sentiment behind a gift is more important than the cost.

Create a budget and stick to it. Spend only what you can afford, and if you don’t have the ability to spend anything, bake a treat or offer your talents and time to your friends and loved ones.

4. Honor loved ones you have lost

It may be difficult to celebrate the holiday season if you’ve lost someone dear to you or distance makes it difficult to spend time together.

Spend this holiday season reflecting on special memories of lost loved ones. Consider doing something meaningful in their honor.

And if you’re unable to spend time with loved ones, volunteer your time to a local organization where your smiling face could change someone’s day.

5. Don’t be afraid to say no

Understand that it’s okay to say no. Try to say “yes” to the events and things you know will bring you joy. Say “no” to obligations you know will cause you heartache and disappointment.

If working a few extra hours of overtime will make you happy so you can treat someone you love, it may be worth doing. But if your boundary-crossing relative invites you to a holiday party, feel free to decline. You’ll experience less stress and worry by saying no.

If you’ve tried the tips above and your mood hasn’t improved or your symptoms continue well after the holidays, consider speaking with a mental health professional.

They can help you determine your biggest stressors and find ways to better cope with holiday stress.

When it comes to stress, it’s important to listen to what your body and mind are telling you. If a situation is too stressful, ask yourself why you feel the way you do and consider what you can do to better manage your stress.

By learning how to cope with day-to-day stress, you can be better prepared to tackle holiday stress.


Could my holiday stress be caused by major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern?

Anonymous patient


Major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern can be difficult to differentiate from holiday stress. The major difference is the duration and severity of your symptoms. Major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern must meet all of the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder, including symptoms and duration of symptoms. The criteria for this condition are significantly different than feeling “down in the dumps” for a day or two or having anxiety about holiday events. If you suspect that you’re having a bout of major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern, consult your doctor immediately.

Timothy J. Legg, PMHNP-BC, GNP-BC, CARN-AP, MCHESAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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