Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

holiday dinner


It's all too easy to get caught up in a hectic schedule of get-togethers, cooking, shopping, traveling, and everything else that goes along with the holidays. We've put together a list of practical tips to help you take back your day and make room for your own wellbeing in the busiest time of the year.

Making time

Batch your tasks for the week where possible. Did you know that “task switching” can result in a loss of up to 40% of our productivity? Each time we switch gears from one task to another, our brains need a moment to redirect focus. To avoid losing time to task switching, work on batching your tasks together. Simply write down what you know you’ll need to do over the course of the week, group together similar items, and aim to get one “batch” done at a time.

Cooking, for example, is one of those tasks where a little bit of planning can go a long way. At the beginning of the week, make a couple of easy dump-and-go meals in the slow cooker or roast two sheet pans’ worth of proteins and veggies, then portion and freeze them for quick meals to reheat as needed. 

Outsource what you can. Hire a handyman or an enterprising young neighbor to handle the yard work on your to-do list, shop for your groceries online instead of in-store and pick them up curbside, or have someone come by to help clean two or three times over the course of the season. This can apply to certain holiday obligations, too - if you’re stressing out over finding the time to bake cookies to hand out to the neighbors, consider filling out the plate with goodies from a local bakery instead.

Ultimately, remember you only have 24 hours in a day. Figure out how many get-togethers and events you can reasonably commit to each week without burning out, and stick to that guideline to avoid feeling overwhelmed by social engagements. And make sure to schedule non-negotiable appointments for “you time” during the week as well, whether that means taking an hour over the weekend to do something you enjoy, or ensuring you have 20 minutes of quiet time before turning in for the night.

Reducing friction

Put a stop to decision fatigue. Have you ever thought about the sheer amount of decisions you have to make throughout the day, both big and small? And the number of decisions we have to make only increases during busy seasons. Over time, excessive decision-making can cause decision fatigue, adding to your stress.

So, simplify the decisions you have to make during the day. Pare down your wardrobe (even temporarily) so that putting an outfit together requires less consideration. Automate your bill payments to free up some mental space. Wash, cut, and bag fresh veggies, make bundles of cheese and crackers, or mix together a few handfuls of nuts for easy grab-and-go snacks to streamline your choices for afternoon snacking.

Try to anticipate last-minute issues as best you can, and plan ahead. Think back to previous holiday seasons. Were there any moments of panic that added to your stress? Maybe you had forgotten to pick up a small gift for a white elephant party, or didn’t realize that the toys you purchased for the little ones needed batteries until the gifts had been opened and the kiddos were ready to play. Perhaps you were in the middle of cooking up a big holiday meal when you realized you were out of butter, or maybe you ran out of wrapping paper with no time to run to the store before the festivities.

After you’ve thought about what roadblocks could pop up to cause you additional stress, make a game plan. Pick up a few simple gift cards as a plan B for last-minute gifting, take stock of your holiday supplies and purchase what you’ll need (and maybe a little bit extra) well in advance, and take a glance at your recipes ahead of time to add any missing ingredients to your grocery list.

Keep expectations reasonable. It’s hard not to idealize the holidays and try to create the perfect experience, à la Clark Griswold. Aiming for perfection, though, is an unfair standard. Accept that some things likely won’t go to plan, no matter how much you prepare.

Instead, focus on what you really value about the holiday season and prioritize putting your energy there. Is it spending quality time with family? Putting a smile on someone’s face with a thoughtful gift? Sharing your home with friends? Narrow down what the holidays really mean to you, and make that your priority. When your energy and time are spent on the things that align best with your values, the “nice-to-have” parts of the holidays become less taxing.

Holding space for peace and joy

Do one small thing every day that allows your mind and body to rest. This should be something that brings you joy and promotes a few minutes of peace during your day. Brew a cup of tea in the morning and have some device-free quiet time; watch a comforting holiday movie; take twenty minutes to sit outside and listen to some music. Enjoy whatever small moments you can create for yourself.

Stay connected to your support network. Connecting with a loved one during times of stress can help us focus on what truly matters. Think of the people in your life who help keep you grounded, and lean on them if life gets overwhelming.

Learn your boundaries and advocate for yourself. If you can start to feel yourself wearing thin, think about what you have on your plate that doesn’t add value and consider simply letting it go.

Ultimately, remember to be kind to yourself - especially when life gets busy. For more ideas and tips for self-care during the holiday season, check out this handy downloadable guide.

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