5 must-have holiday stress relievers


We’re in it now—smack dab in the middle of the most joyous time of year. Holiday season.

This is a time of celebration for most of us. Family is all around, feasts are on the table, and gifts and gratitude abound.

However, this is also one of the most stressful times of year. For some people, it’s the worst season of all.

During the holidays, suicides spike. The happy family scenes remind some people of what they’re missing, increasing their feelings of loneliness and depression.

And even for those surrounded by a happy, loving family, stress can overtake joy. With so many moving parts converging in one spot—gifts to buy and meals to plan and children to entertain—the pressures of the season can sometimes feel overwhelming.

That’s not how I want your holiday to be. Not only is that a subversion of what should be a joyous time, but stress is very bad for your health.

So let’s take a moment to reflect on the best ways to deal with stress during the holiday season—and to increase your feelings of connection and happiness.

5 ways to beat holiday stress & reclaim joy

1. Let go of the perfect

Of course, everyone wants their plans to go just right.

I’ve got news for you—the world doesn’t work that way.

Planes will be delayed. Unexpected traffic will snarl. Your roast may be overdone, and your cake might not rise.

And that’s ok.

Life is never perfect. To pursue perfection at all costs isn’t just futile—it’s also a great way to drive yourself crazy.

Not to mention—it’s the imperfect that we tend to remember, and to cherish. That crazy Uzbeki restaurant that hosted holiday dinner on the fly. That spontaneous caroling singalong shared by strangers at the highway rest stop. The hours spent talking over coffee next to the movie theater that oversold seats.

It’s the unusual and the unexpected that stick out in our memories—and provide the greatest chance to make large impacts.

However, if you approach any unexpected hiccup with anger, you decrease your odds of finding the humor and happiness that can come when plans go awry.

So relax a bit. When something goes wrong, let it go. Be in the moment instead.

With that simple attitude shift, you can melt away stress when things don’t go as planned—and worry about what might go wrong beforehand.

2. Breathe

Each day during the holidays, take a few moments to practice mindful breathing.

Stress can sometimes sneak up on you. You might think that you’re enjoying everyone’s company, but suddenly find yourself snapping over nothing. We are social animals—but at some holiday celebrations, we can also feel a bit like rats caught in a cage.

So, if you start to feel a little claustrophobic—or, even better, before that emotion arises—practice some breathing exercises.

Be still. Don’t think about anything but your breath. Count them, as they go in and out. Slow your breathing down, and notice what happens to your body with each breath.

If you’re feeling especially tense, breath deeply, and picture every breath travelling through your entire body. And with each exhale, picture tension exiting along with the air.

Mindful breathing is an important part of each day. But it’s especially important when you may be surrounded by stressful situations. Short circuit any possible stress by letting it go before it can build up.

3. Watch Your Food

Surrounded by delicious food—especially food made with love—it’s easy to overindulge.

That many people overeat in response to stress doesn’t help.

So be aware of what you’re putting in your body. Eat too much, and you may temporarily feel better, but you’ll soon crash.

Sugar, especially, can lead to a crash—not to mention sugar depresses your immune system, just when you’re exposed to all the germs that come with traveling.

So try not to overdo the sweets. If you’re serving a buffet-style meal, walk the entire line before putting anything on your plate. Plan your entire meal.

And then only take one plate. You wouldn’t eat two dinners normally—don’t do it now either.

If you have eight aunts and uncles desperate to know what you think of their version of a green bean casserole, have a bite of each—but a serving of none.

Most importantly, be aware of your food choices. The holidays aren’t an excuse to leave your healthy choices at the door. Remind yourself of that before each meal.

4. Move around

The holidays tend to interrupt our normal schedules, and that alone can lead to stress.

And if you skip a stress-reducer that’s part of your routine—like yoga, meditation or exercise—the problem can be worse.

You might not have time to go to the gym, but there’s always time to move around and clear the cobwebs.

After a big meal, say you’re going for a walk and invite others to come along. Wake up early to go for a jog. Play tag with the kids. Volunteer to be the one who goes around the house finding everyone before meals.

Find and take advantage of chances to move, every chance you get. The simple act of moving is a great stress reducer—and a healthy way to counteract any holiday indulgences.

5. Find your family—and your gratitude

For a variety of reasons, you might not have the chance to spend your holidays with family.

In that case, this time of year can be a painful reminder of loneliness. Don’t let that emotion win.

Instead, find your connections elsewhere—in a different sort of family.

You could volunteer at a homeless shelter, or celebrate with a church group. You could go on an early morning ride with a biking group, or read holiday stories with a book group.

Wherever your proclivities lie, pursue them. I know you’ll be able to find others just like you who also yearn for connection during the season.

And even if you’re connections are all around, consider spending a bit of time helping the less fortunate. As I’ve said more than once, gratitude is an extremely healthy emotion—and the best way to banish negative thoughts.

If you’re reading this today, I know you’ve got plenty to be thankful for. And helping others is one of the best ways to remind yourself of that fact.

Above all else—remember, the holidays are about your family, your connections, your love, and your gratitude. Focus on the big picture, and stresses about mundane concerns will melt away.


Last Updated: December 24, 2019
Originally Published: 
December 16, 2015