Dealing with Holiday Stress and How to Enjoy The Holidays

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Christmas is hands down my favorite time of year. I love that song that Andy Williams sings- It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

But sadly, it can be a hectic and busy season. In college, I always felt I could never fully relax and enjoy the holiday season due to studying for final exams and limiting social events. Not to mention 2020 and 2021 brought its own stress with the ever-changing Covid-19 pandemic and all the restrictions that came with it. 

Somehow Thanksgiving comes and goes and BAM! Christmas is immediately here and it’s a mad dash to decorate the house, but presents for loved ones, get a Christmas tree, bake all the cookies, send Christmas cards, watch 100 Christmas movies and enjoy holiday festivities and parties. 

I’m writing this post in January, reflecting on the past Christmases I have had in hopes of capturing the ideal formula on how to lessen stress that comes with the holidays. 

Addressing the Source of Holiday Stress

Before we dive into how to limit holiday stress, let’s take a moment and identify what causes some of the holiday stress. 


I’ve talked before about how a few small things can add up fast. Well, how about when you are invited to your work’s Secret Santa party, a friend’s Ugly Sweater party, and you have a big family and lots of friends…goodbye savings! On top of buying gifts for all your friends and family, you want to keep up your charitable giving or tithing and your car and home both have minor to major repairs. 70% of Americans are feeling more financial stress this holiday season compared to 2020. Unfortunately, finances can be tied to (or at least perceived) how much you care about someone. If you are meeting your boyfriend/girlfriend’s family for the first time, you may feel obligated to buy a nice gift for them to show that you care deeply for the family of your significant other. You may want to get your spouse something out of this world to show how much you appreciate them throughout the year. 

Family Dynamics.

Although Christmas time is meant to be celebrated with the people you love most, oftentimes the people you love most are usually family, but sometimes families can cause heartache, drama, tension, and awkward interactions. Maybe your spouse can’t stand your side of the family, or maybe you can’t stand your spouse’s side of the family. Not everyone has a wonderful family dynamic. Even if you do have a good family dynamic, making time for all your family can be quite overwhelming. Just thinking about all the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, nieces, nephews, parents, siblings is a lot to take on. When B and I got married in October 2019, we were married two months before our first Christmas as a married couple. We decided to be able to make both families happy, we would spend part of Christmas Day with my family, and the other part of Christmas Day with his family. This wasn’t ideal because we didn’t like to have to cut the time short with either family and spend time commuting to the next family’s house. We did this in 2019 and 2020, but last Christmas (2021) we decided it makes so much more sense to split Christmas into two days. 

Emotional triggers.

If you love Christmas music, you probably are familiar with Last Christmas by Wham! which the first line is “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away, this year, to save me from tears, I'll give it to someone special”. If you have gone through a recent breakup, the thought of being alone at Christmas can be extremely difficult. If you’ve had a falling out with someone special, it can be an emotional reminder of your problems. An emotional trigger can also happen if a negative life event happened around Christmas time. In 2021, two days before Christmas I lost my sweet Balinese cat, I’ve had her for 18 years. In 2020, a few days after Christmas I received news my beloved Grandma passed away. These two life events have kind of gelled in my mind with the Christmas season. 

Expectations vs. reality.

You’ve been pinning family Christmas picture ideas on Pinterest. Day of your family photos, the baby has a blowout and ruins the adorable festive baby outfit you’ve custom ordered on Etsy, or the kiddos or family fur baby aren’t staying still or looking at the camera. You feel inspired to bake beautiful holiday treats but they don't turn out how you expected them. The annual work Christmas party that you’ve been looking forward to all month long got canceled. Your favorite Starbucks drink is discontinued (this happened to me Eggnog lattes are my favorite and Christmas 2021 I found out they are discounted lol). 

Multiple social events.

If you are a social butterfly like me, you most likely will want to say yes to every cookie exchange, Christmas church special, Christmas party, ugly sweater party, Christmas play, Christmas light show you are invited to. Or maybe you don’t like going to event after event, and just want a silent night, holy night. Juggling calendar invites can be complicated, and with only a few weeks before Christmas, unfortunately, there’s just not enough time to squeeze it all in. 


If you live in a big city (like San Diego) you’re probably used to crowds, traffic, and zero street parking when big events are going on. Crowds don’t necessarily bother me, but what bothers me is when people in crowds start to behave indiscreetly. Crowds happen during Black Friday sales, Christmas parades, holiday concerts, sports games and it’s no fun. One nice thing that has come out of covid-19 is people being more aware of personal space. Unfortunately, one’s personal space goes out the window when a big event is happening. People can be rude and cut lines, shove, and also it’s just hard to maneuver around an area when there are hundreds of people. 

Fear of missing out.

Maybe from past experience if you know that if you don’t get your Christmas decor shopping done by the second week of December, all the good decor will be picked over. Or perhaps you know you have to mail out all your Christmas cards and gifts by a certain date so your loved ones will get them by Christmas. If you are someone who needs due dates (like me) the fear of missing a critical date can cause added stress. 

How to Lessen Holiday Related Stress

Take inventory.

First, try and find the top sources of your stress. Then ask yourself, “can I do anything to change why I am feeling stressed?” If you can, then absolutely implement the change to reduce stress. For example, as I mentioned earlier, my husband and I were feeling some stress about having to split Christmas day between both families. We decided after 2 Christmases of doing this, it would be way more beneficial to break Christmas up into two days with our families. Remember, at the end of the day, YOU are the one dealing with your own stress, and your health and happiness come first. As long as the changes you are implementing are safe, legal, healthy, and centered with kindness, then you are good to go. I also understand some life circumstances that cause stress cannot be stopped. Family health issues, loss of a loved one/pet, loss of a job, all those circumstances can ultimately cause heartache and pain. This is where stress management comes into play. Find a counselor, therapist, or trusted friend that you can go to about your pain. 

Don’t do it all.

Lessen your load by recruiting people in your life to help you. If you cook the Christmas dinner every year, get your husband or teen/adult kids to help. If you are the one buying all the presents for family and friends, get your spouse, daughter, son, sister-someone to either do some of the shopping on your list or go with you to help you. If you are signing up for extra things such as toy drives, volunteering at a soup kitchen, Santa 5k, caroling, whatever it may be, it is okay to say no or “next time” to these extracurricular activities. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to be generous with your time and money, but you do need to build some margin in your life during the Christmas season. Accept imperfection. Associate Director of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Anxiety Disorders Clinic, Neda F Gould, Ph.D. says, “It’s OK if it’s not perfect. Imperfection is healthy and normal. For some of us, it might just take a little practice,” reminds Gould. It is important to understand your holiday plans may not go as planned. It helps to be adaptable and be able to pivot through holiday gatherings, social events, etc. If you had a beautiful table prepared and only half of your guests showed up, pivot your mindset, and think, that’s ok, I understand not everyone could make it, but more leftovers for everyone to bring home! I am a perfectionist and can often get irritated if something didn’t turn out exactly according to plan. This is where I need to practice being content with imperfection, or unfulfilled expectations. 

How to Make the Most of Christmas

Enjoy the moment.

Take in as much wonder as you did when you were a child. Have you ever seen a baby around presents? They are often more intrigued by the wrapping paper and bows than the gift itself. If you are driving around looking at lights or watching a performance, make sure to put that phone away. Don’t check your email or your texts, just watch and enjoy. If you burn the pumpkin pie, make a joke of it. If your baby is screaming in every photo with Santa, laugh at it and know it’ll give the Christmas cards a little more character. 

Practice gratitude.

Instead of browsing the internet and social media to see what other people are doing or to see what’s the hottest gifts of the season, start by writing down everything you are grateful for. Tell your spouse, your kids, friends, parents, whoever that you are grateful for them and you love them. If your home needs repairs (dishwasher, sink, paint job, etc) as long as it is not an emergency, put the frustration or angst you may have on hold. As crazy as it sounds, change your thoughts about these repairs. For example, if your dishwasher breaks down, instead of saying “this is ridiculous, I can’t wash my dishes because the dishwasher is broken!’ say, “I love the ease my dishwasher brings, but I can wait for it to be fixed.” I’ve done that if I get a cold/flu, I’ll say “man I took for granted what it feels like to not be coughing and sneezing all the time!” Psychologist Rick Hanson calls this taking in the good. In his article in Greater Good Magazine, he says, “The remedy is not to suppress negative experiences; when they happen, they happen. Rather, it is to foster positive experiences—and in particular, to take them in so they become a permanent part of you”.

Plan ahead.

This doesn’t mean Christmas in July, but it does mean carving out some time to take care of some “Christmas tasks” before the madness begins. I live in Southern California, so literally, Christmas pictures can be taken any time of year because we don’t really go through seasons changing drastically. If possible, plan to take your Christmas pictures in late October, early November. I love buying sentimental gifts from Etsy, and usually shipping will take awhile depending on the region. Start shopping on Etsy in October/November, so there’s no reason it can’t come in time for Christmas. To help you remember to be merry this season, check out this "Merry Everything" shirt I bought from Etsy! There are other ways you can get ahead too-buy discounted holiday decor after the season, start writing your Christmas cards early, bake and freeze Christmas cookies, start a Christmas presents fund, etc. 

I hope this holiday season is a special, low stress time for you and your family. 


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