Don’t Let Holiday Stress Overwhelm You This Season – Here’s How

Anne Shaw

While some people can’t wait to welcome the holiday season, others experience trepidation thanks to impending holiday stress. Whether you’re cooking a grand, picture-perfect Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings or coordinating a gift exchange with far-flung family members, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and take a hit to your mental health — especially considering that some of your hallmark holiday traditions will be hard to pull off and may need to take a different form this year.

So, rather than getting caught up in chasing your concept of the perfect holiday, prepare your mindset and get ahead of any potential holiday stress. After all, when we strip it all down, the holidays weren’t meant to stress us out but to help us remember and enjoy the most important things in life: a sense of community filled with family, friends and a spirit of generosity — even if you’re only able to connect virtually this year.

8 Ideas to Simplify the Season for a Stress-Free Holiday

As the holiday season approaches, keep this word in mind: Hygge. Pronounced “hoo-gah,” the Danish word expresses coziness, wellness and contentment – even, or maybe especially, in the face of harsh winter weather that offers Danes only seven hours of sunlight. Hygge is the mood the holidays are meant to embody, and it’s a pretty far cry from holiday stress.

As the holiday season approaches, keep this word in mind: Hygge. Pronounced “hoo-gah,” the Danish word expresses coziness, wellness and contentment.

The feeling you experience when you snuggle up under a fleece blanket beside a roaring fire? Hygge. The sound of rain on a tin roof while you’re inside with a good book, safe and dry? Hygge. A lazy Saturday afternoon with some good board games or a puzzle? You guessed it: Hygge, the mindset of slowing down and enjoying one another’s company, whether with your immediate household or finding unique ways to connect with those you can’t see in-person this year.

The key to minimizing holiday stress and enjoying the holidays in the spirit of hygge lies in zeroing in on what causes stress, reducing any triggers you can control, and then focusing on the good parts you enjoy. Use these eight tips to both reduce stress and find joy in simple pleasures.


1. Get Organized

For many, their holiday stress relates to the cost of the holidays. Spending too much on gifts, for instance, can start your new year off in the hole. Set a holiday budget and stick to it. You can even turn this into a fun, new family tradition. Decide on an appropriate overall budget, setting subcategories for food, gifts, decorations, and any other holiday costs, like shipping.

This year, you may even consider shopping at businesses that will not only ship gifts, but also wrap them for you — bonus points if they offer complimentary holiday shipping. Keep track of your spending on a shared spreadsheet or a poster on your refrigerator. Congratulate each other on coming in under budget in each category and overall. As a fun reward, you might even want to let family members keep a portion of the money they didn’t spend!


2. Protect Your Calendar

When it comes to holiday celebrations, think quality not quantity. An activity that only adds to your holiday stress by cluttering your calendar is one you shouldn’t feel bad about declining, especially during a year in which social distancing has become an accepted preference and practice.

So, if your family’s busy social calendar is a source of holiday stress, then creating a family calendar of events might help. Even if gatherings are mostly virtual this year, seeing it all on paper (or screen) can sometimes make it less overwhelming. But if the opposite is true, then bring this issue forward and decide if there’s anything you can cut out.


3. Delegate

If you’re someone who carries most of the holiday weight, consider what you can delegate to other family members. Whatever your style is — holding a family meeting, talking with each person individually to ask them for help, or acting as the general doling out orders — make it a team effort so one person isn’t doing it all.

Feeling the pressure of wrapping and shipping everyone’s gifts? Don’t!

Ask your son to help you wrap your daughter’s presents and your daughter to help you wrap your son’s. Not only will this make the gift-wrapping quicker, easier and more meaningful, but in this example, you’ll also get some time to bond with each of your kids one-on-one.


4. Practice Mindfulness

Once reserved for yogis and life coaches, mindfulness has gone mainstream. The term refers to a mental and emotional state in which we are entirely focused on the present moment. Instead of allowing yourself to become overwhelmed with your to-do list, try instead to focus solely on the present moment.

Get out of your head and into your body by closing your eyes, inhaling and exhaling with purpose, feeling your feet touch the floor, and noting the sounds and smells around you. By practicing mindfulness, we can realize — and celebrate — that in this present moment, all is well.


5. Instill Gratitude in Your Mindset

When we’re stressed and overwhelmed, it’s easy to fall into the complaining trap. But this just keeps us from seeing the good in our lives. Despite all the distractions, try to enjoy the moment. Replace worry with gratitude. A gratitude journal can be a quick and easy way to start and end your day.

List three things you’re grateful for in the morning and three more things at night. Whenever a sense of tumult tempts you, correct yourself in the moment. When you hear your inner Scrooge cringe, “Ugh, I need to wrap so many presents this weekend,” reframe the situation: “I’m so glad to have so many special people in my life.” You can even try to make tasks like that more enjoyable by tying in something you enjoy. Why not wrap while listening to your favorite seasonal music or watching a timeless holiday movie?


6. Dare to NOT Compare – Stop Pursuing Perfect

It’s tempting to compare our decorations, celebrations and gift-giving prowess to others’. And in this age of social media, it’s hard not to lament our lack of Instagram-worthy decorations or gift-wrapping skills, especially when perfect images of holiday cheer are plastered all over our Facebook feeds.

Instead of worrying about what your “Friends” are doing and what your followers will think of your holiday posts, ask yourself: Does it make me happy?

Instead of worrying whether your baked goods measure up to those of your grandmother, ask yourself: Did I enjoy making them? Am I glad to share these with others? As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”


7. Look for Ways to Spread Joy

When we are overwhelmed with our own holiday stress, it can be difficult to notice the goodness all around us. Rather than focusing on your own sense of overwhelm, reframe your holidays by sparking joy in others and, therefore, in yourself.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu advises in The Book of Joy, instead of asking, “Well, how can I be happy?” we can ask, “How can I help to spread compassion and love?” The Dalai Lama notes in the same book that when we find concern for others’ well-being and try to help, we often find our source of happiness. If you feel like the holidays are just too much, especially this year, look around for ways to bring joy to others.

Consider replacing a holiday activity that stresses you out with a volunteer effort, such as organizing a group of friends and family to write thank you notes to healthcare workers or purchasing gifts for a holiday giving tree. In more normal years, you might also consider serving a holiday meal at a soup kitchen.


8. Find Joy in Simple Traditions

The holidays weren’t always an extravaganza of overdone decorations, obligatory parties and competitive gift-giving. And this year offers many of us an opportunity to dial things back and refocus on what’s important. So, instead of stressing over finding the perfect gift or stringing the lights just right, consider how you can simplify your season.

Embrace activities like baking a batch of Christmas cookies on a chilly afternoon or sipping peppermint hot chocolate in front of the fireplace while your family’s favorite holiday movie plays. These are easy ways to celebrate with your loved ones, no stress required. Other stress-free (and socially-distant) traditions could include making holiday cards, or wearing a new set of matching pajamas together each year on a special night.


This holiday season, cut down on the sources of your stress, whether they’re comparing, over-scheduling, overspending or pursuing perfect. Set your priorities by paring down both your holiday calendar and your to-do’s to only the things you do love about the holidays. And if you realize that an activity is taking away from your enjoyment, then take note and scratch it from your list next year!

The holidays aren’t about adhering to stale traditions, attending all the parties (even if they are just on Zoom) or competing with the neighbors for the best light display. The holidays are a time to slow down, savor the moment and celebrate what really matters to us.

What are your favorite low-stress ways to celebrate the holidays? Let us know in the comments below.

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