More Health:

December 15, 2022

To reduce holiday stress, set realistic expectations, plan ahead and laugh often

Mental health experts say it's important to take time for yourself amid the hustle and bustle that happens at this time of year

Mental Health Stress
Holiday Stress Andrew Neel/Unsplash

There are many ways to reduce stress at the holidays. Mental health experts advise people to set realistic expectations, plan ahead, laugh often and, if necessary, allow time to grieve.

Some people dread the holiday season because of the expectations placed on them to make it a magical time for their family members and friends. The holidays can be extra stressful due to the long lines at stores, piles of presents to wrap and parties to plan or attend.

Mental health experts stress that it is important for people to take care of themselves in the midst of all the hustle and bustle.  

Though some stress is inevitable at this time of year, too much can do a number on the mind and body, particularly in the long term. Stress can increases the risk for anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, muscle tension and pain, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration difficulties.

To avoid stress overload this holiday season, keep in mind these tips from the experts at the Mayo ClinicJohns Hopkins Medicine, and Jackson Health System:

• Plan ahead. Don't wait until the last minute to do all your shopping. Waiting in long lines when you have a lengthy to-do list will just amp up your stress level. Break the shopping into more manageable bits. Also, stay organized amid all the holiday commitments, so that you know what is expected of you. If you are hosting a gathering, create a menu and a shopping list ahead of time so that there will be less running around to do on the day of the event.

Don't be afraid to say no. Remind yourself that you can't be everything to everybody. Pick and choose your commitments carefully so that you don't burn yourself out quickly. Also, ask family members to share some of the load when it comes to the shopping, cleaning and other holiday prep work.

Set realistic expectations. Demanding perfection from yourself and others can take the joy out of the season. Try to relax and appreciate the time with loved ones.

Allow yourself time to grieve. If you have suffered a recent loss in the family, the holidays can be particularly tough. Don't be afraid to open up about how you are feeling with other family members and friends. And it is OK to try new traditions if the old ones hurt too much this year. 

Try to stay in the moment. Even in stressful moments, it can be possible to find something good. So if you end up burning a batch of cookies while baking with your kids, don't let the frustration ruin the afternoon. Instead, try focusing instead on the fun you had creating memories together in the kitchen. If you are in a long line at the grocery store, try thinking of all the things you are grateful for, or have a friendly conversation with some of the other customers in line. It can lift your spirits and theirs.

Laugh often. A good laugh with those you love increases the body's feel-good endorphins, relieving stress. It also stimulates many of organs including the heart, lungs and muscles.

Choose kindness. When someone is acting in a rude or hurtful manner, try to respond with kindness because you never know what is going on in their lives. By choosing compassion, you may soften your own frustration about the situation. If things get really tense though, it is OK to take a break and regroup.

During this hectic time of year, it is also important to make sure you are eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise and sleep. Treating yourself to some sweets or a glass of wine or two at holiday festivities is fine, the American Heart Association says, but avoid letting them derail a healthy routine. Also, be sure to set aside time to do the things you enjoy whether that's reading, listening to music or watching television shows.

Follow us

Health Videos