The holiday season can be filled with joy and generosity, but it can also feel overwhelming or stressful. For many families worldwide, the holiday season presents a unique form of anxiety that is often associated with family gatherings, meal planning, and gift preparation.

The best way to approach a busy holiday season is by planning and strategizing ways to navigate interactions with difficult family members. Establishing a holiday budget and arranging holiday travel ahead in advance can help decrease stress. There are several tips for dealing with anxiety that may help anyone facing a challenging holiday season this year.

What causes holiday stress?

Between making family plans, buying and wrapping gifts, and budgeting for the holidays, it is understandable that some families struggle with persistent stress this time of year. It can feel as though every family and friend has a different expectation for how the holidays are supposed to look and feel every year. Keeping up with and managing expectations can cause unnecessary anxiety and create feelings of guilt or inadequacy. The first step someone can take to approach these reactions is to determine whether the stress is external or internal.

6 Methods for managing stress and anxiety over the holidays

Stress is a typical response to situations that appear to be out of your control. While it is common to feel as though plans and expectations for the holidays are out of your control, it is possible to reestablish your sense of agency and minimize stress.

Acknowledge your feelings

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The first step to coping is to identify how you’re feeling. Take a few minutes to write down or otherwise record the thoughts, emotions, or stressors that come to mind most frequently. Know that it is acceptable to take time for yourself and process these emotions. Simply allowing yourself the space to express your feelings can offer reassurance that it’s normal to experience stress during the holidays, and it’s okay, to be honest with yourself and your loved ones.

Lean on a loved one

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Chances are, someone close to you is also feeling stressed out or anxious about the holiday season. Sometimes, the best way to process your feelings is to talk through them with a trusted friend. You may discover that you’re experiencing similar circumstances and can work together to offer solutions to minimizing stress. Validation is essential in processing and balancing emotions, so leaning on a loved one can be highly effective.

Plan ahead

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Particularly if your stress is caused by tight finances or time management, it can help plan ahead for the holidays. Establish early on your plans for family gatherings and decide on a reasonable budget for both food and gifts. If you are planning a meal or even baking holiday treats, purchase the ingredients ahead of time, and designate a day to prepare them. This will help you stick to a timeline and refrain from overspending.

Know your limits

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You are only one individual with one individual’s abilities. Don’t go into the holiday season with an expectation of doing and seeing it all. Leave time for yourself and establish boundaries with loved ones when necessary. This may mean scheduling every other year with one side of the family or minimizing your contribution to meal preparation.

Stick to healthy habits

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Don’t forget to take care of your body’s needs this holiday season. Remember to build in time for physical activity and prioritize rest. The holidays can often be a time for extra sweets and heavy meals, but be sure to balance healthy and nourishing snacks. Continue to take part in the things that bring you joy, such as yoga, meditation, or even your morning routine.

Accept others where they are

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Your family members and friends may be feeling a similar level of stress. If conflicts arise, bear in mind that they may not be coping with stress and anxiety as well as they could be. Give grace, and try to be understanding if others are upset or distressed.

Making spirits bright

Your mental and physical well-being should take priority over any expectations for the holidays. Establish a plan, lean on loved ones, and know that it’s okay to take a break. Minimizing stress and anxiety can influence your enjoyment of the holiday season. Remind yourself that you are one person, and don’t be afraid to tell others what you need to make this holiday memorable and enjoyable for all.