Holiday Stress and How to Deal With It

stressed santa
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Learning how to deal with holiday stress may seem like a downer type of post. Holidays are meant to be fun, right? Joyous?

They are, of course. But there are a lot of additional tasks and activities also. And that’s where the stress creeps in.

We all struggle with holiday stress at one point or another. It’s perfectly normal. We’ve all been there.

But what if there was a way we could relax this holiday season and enjoy the festivities even more?

In this post, I’m going to talk about four common holiday-related stresses and share ideas on how to deal with them.

Let’s get started.

1.     You Stress Over the Budget

The Holiday Stress

As soon as summer ends, the holiday ads and commercials start. You stay strong at first. But after seeing them for the hundredth time, you notice you’re starting to get caught up in the whole gifts, gifts, gifts idea.

Now gifts and giving are great, of course. But when we fall into the trap of giving too many gifts or too big, we often end up with buyers’ remorse. You no longer feel the bliss you had when you were doing the actual shopping. You just feel the pressuring of overspending.

The Fix

This is going to take awareness and self-discipline. But I have faith in you!

At the start of the holiday season, create a budget. Try to think of all the extra expenses you are likely to encounter. For me it’s mostly gifts, cards, and our tree. We don’t entertain generally, but if you do, add that to your list.

Now, comes the discipline part. You need to stick to that budget. No matter what! We understand that temptations will rise and you may feel the urge to stray. Just remind yourself of the bills that will arrive later. Of other instances when you overspent and regretted it.

One of the easiest ways to decrease spending for most people involves your gift list. First decide who belongs on the list and then decide on a gift limit. The perfect present doesn’t have to be extravagant and pricey. It can be something simple, like baked goods, a knitted sweater, or a photo album. They’re all affordable, but it’s the thought that went into them that counts.

Gifts of time are also valuable. Perhaps cook a meal for your friend and watch a movie you never got to see in the theaters. Or bring a gift of cookies and cocoa and help your grandmother decorate her house. the possibilities are endless. And I think most people are open to non-material gifts, now more than in the past–since the pandemic and re-assessing priorities and all. 🙂

Once the holidays are over and life goes back to normal, you’ll be proud of yourself for sticking to the budget. You’ll also be happy that you don’t have a big pile of bills for extravagant spending!

Use affirmations to stay focused and calm

2.     You Worry About Spending the Holidays Alone

The Holiday Stress

A common factor in holiday stress is family. The holidays are one of those times of the year when the absence of friends and family is more acutely felt. Sadly, sometimes you just can’t get together with your loved ones for one reason or another. 

(Or maybe the stress is having to visit estranged family–but that’s a different thing. See below).

Even if you chose to opt out of family gatherings this holiday season, it can still be hard spending the holidays by yourself. We’re trained early on to believe that holidays are empty and meaningless without people around us. Which is not necessarily true!

If you don’t have friends and family nearby, or you can’t be with them for whatever reason, that can be a stressor and make you prone to feelings of unhappiness.

The Fix

Thanks to technology, there’s almost always a way to contact people even on the other side of the globe. Some methods allow for live talking, others just written messages. Here are some of the various ways you can get in touch with people in today’s modern world:

  • Email
  • Texts
  • Skype
  • Zoom
  • FaceTime

Of course, not everyone globally has access to modern technology, but much of humanity does.

Maybe the virtual visits or messages are not enough “peopling” for you. There are always activities for the holidays you can attend/participate in.

Don’t want to go alone? Maybe there’s a co-worker or neighbor who is away from family like you. Invite them to go with you and make a fun night out of it. Or look for something that puts you in a group–like caroling with a local church, or a holiday cooking class.

Volunteering is another great option. Sharing your time with others in need can make you feel good and reduce some of all those holiday pressures. Visiting homebound people or old folks homes is a rewarding choice. Many of these people do not have attentive family and appreciate the attention.

There are multiple ways to be happy alone during the holidays. Find what works for you and your situation.

3.     You Feel Overwhelmed

The Holiday Stress

To Do List for the holidays (I am using my own Christmas list since that’s what I know and what we celebrate):

  • buy, put up and decorate tree (lug out boxes of decorations)
  • decorate the house inside and out ( more box lugging, carry out the lights and the reindeer and cords)
  • write and send Christmas cards
  • plan visit(s) with family–and then go visit. Includes travel time
  • baking (cookies and whatnot)
  • gifts–shop, wrap, deliver
  • plan and cook Christmas meal (we usually do something easy)
Holiday Stress cookies

That may not sound like a lot–but it’s all in addition to regular life which is already pretty busy!

Some people have long distances to travel and have to handle all the details of such a trip. Some have office parties and neighborhood parties. Lots of people like to add in fun activities like seeing Christmas lights and plays and concerts.

So essentially we have a festive time of year that adds a lot of things to do to already busy lives. The things are generally fun and enjoyed–but it doesn’t negate the fact that they are things to do. 🙂

The Fix

Prioritize self-care even during the busy holiday season. Remember:

You can’t pour from an empty cup


If you hope to create a happy holiday for yourself and for your family, you need to take care of yourself! Learn to pace yourself and to take breaks as you need to.

As with spending, make a plan regarding the activities and tasks you will implement. Look for ways to lighten the load if needed.

As mentioned above, for some people it’s not the absence of family that’s an issue. Rather it’s the feeling of obligation to see family you don’t get along with. Perhaps you can skip a year? Or maybe decrease the length of time you will be away at your parents or in-laws, if that’s helpful.

Other ways to lessen the overwhelm: Spend less time at parties you don’t really want to go to. Have a potluck meal rather than preparing everything yourself. Put out a few less decorations and do a little less baking if you feel too busy. Send less Christmas cards.

Forget about holiday norms and traditions. The importance of the holiday is really not in the externals, but in our thoughts and feelings and in the love we share. Perfection is over-rated. Perfect imperfection is where it’s at. 🙂

4.     You’re Disappointed with Your Unfinished Goals

The Holiday Stress

As the holidays roll around, quite likely you will be hit with the realization of how fast the year has gone by. That may lead you to start thinking of how the year went and whether or not you achieved certain goals.

Our brains are wired to notice and look for the bad (something I discuss in my 30 Day Happiness Challenge), the lacking….in this scenario, all our unfinished goals. Instead of being proud of arranging your files, you stress over the messy garage you haven’t organized.

We’re likely to think this way any time during the year. But it can become much worse during the holidays when stress levels are high and as the end of the year approaches.

The Fix

Here’s some advice for you this holiday season: be kind to yourself. Show yourself some empathy and compassion.

You do it so easily with others, why not you? You deserve it just like they do.

Focus on everything you’ve accomplished, no matter how small. Be proud of your hard work and maybe even get something nice for yourself as a ‘thank-you.’ 💗

Then, when the new year begins, as most of us do, set your goals again. This time maybe create some more easily achieved ones to bolster your confidence. For bigger goals, maybe make them 2-year or 3-year goals and note progress.

In the end, try to take the perspective of this quote:

holiday stress coffee muug

And always enjoy the journey!

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!

About Cate

I am a retired RN–stayed home after my second child was born, having worked for 10 years. I am in my mid-50s now, and I enjoy blogging, designing mugs and more and spreading a bit of positivity in the world.

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