Try These 7 Strategies to Stay Calm During the Busiest Time of the Year

Aka “holiday stress-busters.”

By Brandy Joy Smith

Ready or not, the holidays are right around the corner! For many, the holidays represent weeks of joy, festivities, and family time, but for many, the most wonderful time of the year can actually be the most stressful. With activities to plan, events to attend, gifts to buy, and people to feed, I have to ask myself: Who has the longer list of to-dos—Santa, or me? Suffice it to say, holiday stress is top of mind.

But despite the stress, I love the holidays. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I thrive under pressure and I find comfort in a bit of healthy chaos. However, that’s not to say that I haven’t learned several lessons over the years on how to avoid unnecessary holiday stress. And don’t worry—I’m sharing my secrets so that you (yes, you!) can actually enjoy the holidays instead of making them all about everyone else. It starts with identifying your stressors and learning to actively avoid them.

Featured image by Michelle Nash.

stockings hung by fireplace_holiday stress
Image by Michelle Nash

The Importance of Managing Holiday Stress

Healthline defines holiday depression as a “recurrent depression that is caused by the seasons changing.” Many people with this disorder develop depression symptoms during the fall and continue to feel sad throughout the winter. While holiday stress can look different to everyone, one thing is for sure: it’s a common root of anxiety, depression, and even physical illness. So, this holiday season, if you’re feeling selfish about putting yourself first, just remember that you can’t be a superhero when you’re down for the count. Trust me, when you avoid holiday stressors, the people around you will be grateful.

Below are seven common sources of holiday stress that I’ve trained myself to avoid over the years, which have made recent holidays so much more enjoyable for me and my family! Let’s dive in.

Don’t Over-Commit

‘Tis the season for doing all the things: the classroom parties, the work parties, and all the friend/family gatherings. While it’s all so fun and festive, and having missed so much with COVID over the past few years, it might feel like you have to make up for the lost time. However, more often than not, over-committing ourselves leads to burnout and the inability to actually enjoy the things that matter. 

I will be the first to admit I’m the overcommiter of the family. I want to say yes to everything and have major FOMO! But, having kids, I’ve realized that it’s one thing to drag myself all over town and another to overcommit my family to events. If you’re the yes person in your family, a quick check-in can help you recenter your priorities and create room for the important things. Make a point of communicating the most important commitments and stick to them. If you find yourself up for more, leave room to be flexible. But remember: don’t feel bad if you don’t! 

Clear and honest communication with your invitee makes it easier for everyone to plan. Sometimes, that looks like saying “I’m so grateful that you would consider me for your plans, but we can’t make it this year. We hope to make space for this next year!”

camille outdoor christmas greenery_holiday stress
Image by Michelle Nash

Set Financial Limits Early

It should come as no surprise that one of the biggest holiday stressors is the feeling of having to spend so much money in such a short period of time. From the holiday decorations and food to the never-ending amount of gifts, it can seem like you’re spending money left and right. Again, this is an opportunity to set expectations ahead of time and teach you family how to spend on the things that matter. 

Delegate Responsibilities

Don’t put it all on you! Have a conversation with your immediate and extended family to discuss how everyone can contribute their time and money to making the holiday season special! Start by deciding what things everyone enjoys doing, and if possible, delegate those tasks accordingly. If you hate being in charge of cooking the turkey, chances are someone in your crew loves it and will gladly take it on. Personally, I’m all about holiday décor

guests talking at christmas party_holiday stress
Image by Michelle Nash

Outline Your Holiday Values

Everyone celebrates the holidays differently, so it’s important to identify what your values around the holidays are. You might find value in practicing kindness by giving back to your community by volunteering at your local food bank. Or maybe you spend more time aligning with your family by writing a family mission statement or setting some goals together for the new year. Whatever it is, commit yourself to it fully. 

Avoid Over Eating/Drinking

I’m all for indulging over the holidays, but it’s important to know when enough is enough. Drinking excessively every night will drastically reduce your capabilities, and let’s face it: the holidays are too busy to be hungover daily! Same goes for eating. We all know that there will be plenty of good food to be had, so try and map out which days you’re going to indulge and which ones you plan to slow down. Balance is key. 

More than just discomfort and feeling worn down, drinking and eating too much can have some serious side effects on our overall health. Healthline has a great article on what happens to your body when you binge during the holidays, which I highly recommend! 

presents under christmas tree
Image by Michelle Nash

Cut Out Gift-Giving Stress

Have you found yourself spending hours and hours trying to decide what to get everyone on your list? Eliminate the mental exertion by just asking them what they want! Chances are, they will also tell you where to get the gift, so you’re also not driving around town trying to locate an item that you’re not even sure they’ll like. 

If you’re not the type of person to ask what someone wants as a gift, try asking for a few options or general areas in which they would find something nice and/or useful in their lives. For example, someone could give you three specific kitchen items they need or they could say “I would love anything for my kitchen, as I’m planning on cooking more in the new year!” That will substantially cut down the mental work when trying to decide what to get them.

Once you’ve asked all of your loved ones, compile a list. When it’s complete, sit down and start ordering online. One and done! 

camille sitting by christmas fireplace
Image by Michelle Nash

Leave Space For Your Emotions

The holidays can be emotional, as they’re often tided to strong memories. Maybe you’re missing a loved one who is no longer with you or you aren’t able to travel to visit someone special. Don’t forget the importance of acknowledging those emotions and finding a way to express them. That could look like sharing a memory with your family or lighting a candle to remember them. No matter what, making sure there is room for emotions ensures that they don’t come out at inopportune times. 

I hope that by identifying some of these common stressors, you can actively work to avoid them this holiday season! I believe that the biggest gift you can give yourself is the gift of mindfulness. So, make a list and check it twice, share it with your family, and you’ll be on your way to a happier and brighter holiday season!