8 Simple Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress and Embrace Joy

Start with what’s in your control.

By Brandy Joy Smith
holiday kitchen jingle bells rolling pin

This holiday season I’ve been juggling a lot of emotions. Will all my Christmas gifts show up on time? How am I going to get the Christmas cards out with two under two? Being socially distant from my family and friends is getting harder and harder—I have serious mom guilt about not being able to give Norah the first Christmas experience we gave Liam. There will be no sitting on Santa’s lap or flying to see family. She won’t have a big Christmas dinner and be held by her great grandparents and grandparents.

Then, like a game of ping pong, I feel silly for complaining when so many others are going through so much more than I’m experiencing. I realized I was stressing about making memories she probably won’t even remember. The holiday season can add a certain level of stress to your everyday life. This stress can sometimes take us off track or make us feel bogged down. Well, friends the roller coaster of emotions stops here. I refuse to rob myself of the joy of enjoying all that we do have! As a coach, once again I’ve found myself in the position of coaching myself through a season of life.

Luckily, there are many different strategies in coaching that often lend themselves well to navigating stress. Today, I want to focus on three questions: 

What is in my control, what is in my influence, and what can’t I influence now or perhaps, ever? 

Hint: they all have to do with you and your actions. 

Please know whatever stress you’re going through big or small—it’s all relevant and you should feel free to honor your feelings without comparison!


Have a positive attitude about what you’re about to experience. If you go into something thinking it’s going to stress you out, it probably will. If you feel the voices of self-doubt or negative talk in general, I encourage you to change your mental state. Stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath, and welcome only encouraging positive thoughts about how you can take on the madness. I often ask myself this when I have faced a similar situation in the past and have been successful: How can I apply those tactics to this situation?

Woman of color doing yoga during the holidays

Image by Zachary Gray


How you show up is half the battle. People often take for granted how showing up well-rested and feeding your body the fuel it needs can affect how we take on life. For example, I have a significant weakness for sweets. And we all know that around the holidays there are lots of treats circulating. It always gives me instant gratification but leaves me feeling bad about myself in the long term. When I already have a lot going, the last thing I need to do is stress about the poor choices I’ve made.

As I try to lose the rest of my baby weight, I know the temptations of the holiday snacks and cocktails could derail the goals I’ve set for myself. So, I made a hard rule for myself. No wine or sweets during the week and add a day of cardio to my workout mix. Making a hard rule for myself allows less time for debating and makes me feel better about having a plan to fight the temptation!


Something that I find stressful is trying to figure out what to buy everyone for the holidays. I put a lot of pressure on myself to give something thoughtful. I try to gift throughout the year when I’m thinking of someone, but the expectation of giving during the holidays is incredibly stressful. Because I know this about myself, I make sure I’m prepared with a little trick to everyone on my list.

I always ask in advance for three things they need and the three things they want. I’ll ask for everyone’s current sizes and favorite stores. Then, I also keep a log (I know it’s starting to sound crazy) of things people may have mentioned they wanted throughout the year. This way, everything is in one spot when I go to make my purchases. By putting in this extra effort, it allows me to enjoy buying gifts instead of stress out about it. You can add a little preparation to all kinds of situations!


Again, Mamas, I’m asking you to speak up and speak out. Enlist help when you need it (especially over the holidays!) That also means listening. When someone says, “don’t worry about getting me something,” you don’t. You have an entire year to show the people you love that you care about. It doesn’t need to be with a gift during the holidays. If you had a holiday drama with someone last year, pick up the phone and face it head-on before you have to see them. It’s as easy as “Hey, I’m sorry we didn’t get to chat about X last year. I want to clear the air so we can enjoy this year together. How can we get back on the right track?” 

Next, ask yourself, “what is in my influence?” First thing’s first, you can’t change the actions of others. You can, however, influence them to a certain extent. Here are some examples of steps you can take to TRY and influence others.

no stress sitting by a body of water

image: riley blanks

Beware of Your Energy

Now, your energy is kind of the catch-all for this section of influence. When you focus your energy or vibe on feeling happy, joyful, and excited about the holidays, the chances are how your guests will show up at your gathering. By merely “putting out those good vibes,” from the way you speak on the phone to the excitement you create around your get-together by way of invitations, etc., will make people feel welcome. This will help to relieve any bad juju that may be floating around in people’s minds during this time of unrest.

Body Language

This one is huge as specific postures elicit certain moods. Think about the way you feel when you have your arms crossed. Crossed arms are often seen as a way to hold your feelings in or keep people out. Staying in this position too long can even lead to feeling shut off and negative internally! By creating a welcome stance, you’re putting yourself in place to accept warmth and happiness, not block it out.

Be Flexible

For this final point, I want to bring into play something coaches call “mirror coaching.” We’ve all been in a room where one person yawns, and then a domino effect happens. One by one, everyone else seems to yawn too! Have you ever considered the same may be true of a smile? Smiling not only has the power to elevate your mood, but it can also change the moods of others and make things happier.

The part of your brain responsible for your controlling the smiling facial expression is an unconscious automatic response area, which means that smiling can be completely unconscious, particularly when it comes to our habit of mimicking another person’s smile. If you’re in a nonideal social situation, be flexible. Throw on a smile; they’re contagious!

Finally, “what can’t I influence or change now (or maybe even ever?)”

First and foremost, you can’t change the fact that we are amid a pandemic, and plans are changing weekly, if not daily. There may be hiccups this year, but we can’t change that or dwell on it. Here are some techniques to lessen this stress when you feel it bubbling up.


Let It Go

Yes, this can be easier said than done. But there are many ways to do so! One of my favorites is to journal. I begin by asking myself, “How does worrying about this do me a disservice?” By writing it down, I can see that there is no chance of influencing or changing the outcome, so I need to try to let it go. 

Next, I write down, “What can I do to influence myself?” For me, that means cycling through a breathing exercise called “alternate nostril breathing.” You can find this exercise here. If that doesn’t work, I know I need to get out for a run or another exercise form. Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall tension levels, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects! 

I hope this little life hack helps bring some peace to your holiday mood and relieves some of that holiday stress.