The better you manage holiday stress, the better off you are

Dec 29th, 2020 | By | Category: Lifestyles

The holiday season is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year — full of happiness, cheer, and joy. And while this might be the case for many, it can also be accompanied by emotional stress that can take a toll on one’s health and well-being.

Research suggests that the brain can go into overdrive just before the holidays. Why? Because there are so many decisions to be made and holiday responsibilities can become the topic of conversation in the home long before the holidays arrive. For instance, how will you manage your time, where will your guests stay, will there be conflict in the family, how much money should you spend. And on it goes. It’s not uncommon to find that you can relax only after the holidays are over and life returns to its normal pace.

Some tips on how to cope:

Manage your expectations.

Most of us expect the holidays have to be perfect, down to every small detail.  Easing up a little bit to take the edge off some of the pre-holiday stress. Acknowledge that it is okay if everything doesn’t go just the way you planned, and being kind to yourself when that happens can reduce the self-judgment and help you focus on what’s important – celebrating with those you love.

Pick your battles.

While there may be unfinished business between family members, which is often a cause for stress and anxiety during the holidays, perhaps another time can be set aside to address conflict and find a resolution. You may find that a family member may bring old conflicts to you, and it’s okay to tell them that while this is important to address, you would prefer to do so after the holidays so it can be given the appropriate focus it warrants.

Mindful eating.

Emotional eating and binge eating during the holidays as a way of coping with stress is common because it’s so automatic. Being mindful and paying closer attention to how you eat can help reduce the guilt you might feel post-holidays. Mindful eating can help you make food choices that allow for indulgence but also helps you associate eating with cues such as being hungry and being relaxed rather than being stressed.

Set your boundaries.

Whether it be how much shopping you are going to do or how much time you actually want to spend with family, plan for and set your boundaries ahead of time. This can help reduce some of the uncertainty around budget and time. If you need quality time for yourself, make this expectation clear and take that much-needed walk or workout. Research suggests that women are more likely to fall prey to holiday stress because they shoulder more of the responsibility around planning. Let others chip in and ask for what you need when you find that you need to take a timeout to recharge.

Managing loss and loneliness.


For those that aren’t with their loved ones this year or have lost a partner or family member, the holidays can be an especially painful reminder of this loss. It can be hard to muster up the right amounts of joy and happiness. Reach out to others if you feel sad or lonely, and talk about how you feel. Acknowledging and accepting that it’s normal to have some level of moodiness during the holidays can reduce the self-judgment around this.  Seeking professional help prior to the holidays can be a good idea if you are likely to feel very overwhelmed during this time or might have difficulty coping.

Pandemic stress.

If you’re worried that you can’t celebrate with elderly parents or family members this holiday season, find alternate ways of being together, whether it be a socially distanced outdoor dinner or an online celebration. We’ve all been tested with embracing change this year, and understanding that the holidays might be different is okay. The important thing is to spend time with those you care about; even if it isn’t the same way as the previous year, there are multiple ways to create togetherness.


Dr. Divya Kannan, who wrote this article, is the lead psychologist for (, a health and fitness app.