Holiday Stress (9 Sanity-Saving Strategies That Work)

Jordan Brown

"I'm going to kill you."

My grandma literally said that to me one Thanksgiving.

Her eyes told me she meant it.

And all because I wasn't passing the food fast enough.

I can only scoop so fast, Grandma!

The holidays are supposed to be a time for family gatherings and relaxation.

But they end up being a time for stress, stress, and more stress.

We all know it, stress around the holiday season is REAL.

But by the end of this article, you'll have several strategies you can try to manage holiday stress, once and for all.

How to Manage Holiday Stress This Season


I don't know about you, but my anxiety skyrockets around the holidays.

And if you live with other mental health issues like depression, OCD, or bipolar, then you know the impact so much pressure can have on your mental and physical wellbeing.

Here are 9 tips for managing your stress during the holidays. Experiment with these until you find a mix of strategies that work best for you.

1. Consider what you need to be happy and healthy.

This seems obvious in theory, but it's not so obvious in practice. To be happy and healthy during the holidays--and in general--you need to first consider what you need to be happy and healthy. Make a list of what you need in general to be happy. Then, make another list of anything you need during the holidays.

The two lists might be the same, or you might find you have more needs during the holidays. That's OK. The important thing is that you take the time to consider what you need for your mental health.

2. Identify your holiday stress pain points.

What are your pain points? What I mean is this: who are the people, places, and things that cause you to feel uncomfortable? Are there ways to avoid them, or, at least, to take action to mitigate the damage they might cause? Pain points are not the same as needs, although the two do go hand in hand. Pain points are more problems to be solved. They're puzzles to figure out. Use your needs and pain points to guide your actions.

3. Set boundaries.

We all have heard it. We all know it. But if setting boundaries were simple, we'd all be much happier than we are. Set boundaries like your life depends on it. If you don't want people to hug you or tousle your hair, you have a right to make that clear. You have bodily autonomy.

Other boundaries include verbal, social, and time boundaries, to name a few. Try to come up with a few more, and then let others know that you need them to respect your boundaries. Overcommunicate this to them. It's important.

4. Be mindful of what--and how much--you eat.

Holidays mean gluttony to a certain extent, but you don't need to overdo it. Just because mounds of sugar are in front of you, it doesn't mean you need to shovel it into your face without thinking. Project yourself into the future. Consider how you're going to feel emotionally and physically if you overdo it with eating food that you know will upset you.

5. Be careful with alcohol.

This is a tough one. For people who drink, alcohol can seem like a good tool to relax and let loose. But drinking is the slipperiest of slopes. Alcohol is a depressant, and there is a rebound effect from alcohol that spikes your blood pressure and wakes you up several hours later. 

If you drink, try having a glass of water after every drink you have. Your body and mind will thank you.

6. Carve out time for yourself this holiday season.

What time? When? Where? This seems so difficult in general, and it can seem almost impossible during the holidays. But that's because of social pressure and societal expectations. Just explain to people that you need this time to be the best you can be in your interactions with others during the holidays. Explain how you carving out time for yourself will benefit others. Explain how protecting your needs will solve their pain points.,

7. Say no to social media.

Social media is gross around the holidays. It's full of gratuitous displays of fakery. And don't you tell me you don't know what I mean. Social media already encourages people to display their "perfect" lives, but it gets ramped up into overdrive during the holidays. Take time to step away from social media, and only engage in intentional ways.

Tell yourself, "I will use Facebook for 15 minutes on such and such day. I will engage with such and such community on Twitter for 10 minutes." It's going to be challenging to enforce these limits, but getting sucked into social media will only increase depression and anxiety. 

8. Connect in meaningful ways with others.

What's meaningful? Who's meaningful? That's for you to decide. But you need to do this. The holidays can be times of great meaning. But only if you make it so. You are the arbiter of what's meaningful. And to even be in the position to decide that, you need to show up and be present in your life in the first place. The holidays aren't all bad, so however you are able to connect with others, make it as meaningful as you can.

9. Accept that it's not all going to be "perfect."

Womp womp. I'm not trying to end on a downer, but I need to communicate the reality of life. Nothing ever goes the way we think it will. All expectation is just premeditated resentment. You can blame social media, the mass media, and consumerism for making our expectations even more grandiose. But if you manage your expectations beforehand, you actually do yourself a great favor.

When you try to force yourself to be happy during certain times of the year when others tell you that you need to be happy, you are actually just creating a recipe for mental health problems. It's much better to just be yourself and approach life from a place of acceptance and curiosity.

In Conclusion - Your Feelings Matter When it Comes to the Holidays (And ALL days)

We live in a world that is stressful enough as it is. You don't need to put added pressure on yourself during the holidays.

These tips are meant to guide you--they're not prescriptive.

You need to be the judge of what works to de-stress you--and what doesn't.

But, please, remember that your feelings matter. And remember to choose yourself every holiday season.

It's not selfish. It's called protecting your mental health.

Because if you don't have that, what do you really have?