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December 04, 2023

The holidays can be demanding; here's how to reduce stress

Getting some exercise, spending time in nature and prioritizing sleep are among the ways to prevent feeling overwhelmed

Mental Health Stress
Holiday stress Liza Summer/Pexels

The holiday season stresses out many people. Experts say proper sleep, time outdoors and exercise are key to reducing it.

The holiday season brings pretty lights, warm cocoa and cozy celebrations. But it take a lot of time and effort to make the holidays merry and bright, and that can lead to significant stress.

A recent survey by the American Psychological Association confirms that adults are often overwhelmed during the holiday months. About 2 in 5 people said their stress levels increase between November and January, and 43% said stress induced by the holidays interferes with their ability to enjoy them. Spending too much money or not having enough was the top stressor, followed by finding the right gifts and missing family or loved ones.

MORE: The mental health of people born in the '90s is not improving with age – unlike other generations, study finds

So how can holiday revelers rein in their anxieties? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that taking even a 10-minute break to watch a funny video or listen to music can help manage stress at any time of the year. Spending time with a pet can serve as a quick mood booster, as can journaling

Here are some other ways to manage the chaos of Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah: 

Connect with friends and family

This tip might seem counterintuitive, since the prospect of juggling various family commitments over the holidays often contributes to feelings of anxiety. But according to the APA, a strong social support network can improve resilience to stress. Calling or meeting up with a friend to vent is one example of social support, but so is offering to babysit or pet sit. And it works both ways: giving support also increases positive feelings while reducing the negative ones.

Get moving

Exercise releases endorphins, the "feel good" hormones that reduce stress and pain while boosting your overall sense of well-being. As Johns Hopkins notes, even short walks — ideally a few times a day — can help manage overwhelming feelings. Taking a dance, yoga or other gym class with friends is a great way to combine social connection with physical activity.

Prioritize sleep

Skimping on sleep might seem like a good idea when you're staring down a 25-person gift list, but it's important to stick to the recommended 7-8 hours per night. That's because sleep deprivation can make it harder to solve problems, make decisions, cope with change and manage your overall mood, all vital tools to surviving the holiday blitz. To set yourself up for the best sleep, avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening and screens as bedtime draws near; blue light can suppress melatonin, which makes you drowsy, and social media can increase stress levels.

Spend time in nature

Multiple studies have demonstrated the benefits of getting outdoors. A University of Pennsylvania study found that greening vacant lots reduced nearby residents' depression, while other research concluded that city children who live near green spaces have better mental health and cognitive development. Taking a weekend hike, or just visiting a local park, could provide a sense of calm missing from the holiday hustle and bustle.


One of the quickest fixes for stress is simply to breathe. According to the Cleveland Clinic, deep breathing can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It also moves the body out of the sympathetic nervous system, known as the "fight or flight" state, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digestion. 

One effective exercise that's easy to remember is box breathing, or 4x4 breathing. Simply breathe in slowly through your nose, counting to four, then hold your breath for a count of four. Next, exhale while counting to four and then hold your breath again for a count of four. Repeat as many times as necessary.

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