How to Beat Holiday Stress

Heart health
November 15, 2017

For most of us, the holidays mark a time of celebration, home-cooked meals, and family; but as wonderful as these times can be, they can also make us feel overwhelmed.

Each year, stories of commuters driven to road rage by “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and shoppers losing it in the Christmas cookie aisle pop up around the nation—and with all the stress the holidays can bring, it’s not all that surprising. So, what can you do to stop yourself from stressing this holiday season? We’ve got some expert advice. 

Change your perspective

Jonathan Alpert, Manhattan psychotherapist and author, is used to meeting with clients who are stressed out by the holidays. Luckily, he has a few tips for staying grounded—especially when it comes to navigating the rift between “Hallmark and Hollywood and the true meaning of the holidays.” He suggests that we try to “accept the notion that materialism is not an expression of what the holidays truly represent,” and remember that happiness is not all about “extravagance and expensive gifts.”  

In other words, if you’re feeling stressed about your budget, or about finding gifts that other people will see as worthy, step back and consider taking a different approach. “If you’re having money woes,” Alpert explains, “be creative by making greeting cards and giving homemade gift certificates to your friends and family spelling out how you’ll treat them. For example, offer to spruce up your parents’ yard come Spring time, help your sister with babysitting, or make a home-cooked dinner for a friend.”  

Get in those 8 hours

In addition to focusing on what the holidays truly mean to you, it’s important to spend time taking care of yourself. Sleep, exercise, and healthy eating are all staples of successful stress management. According to the Division of Sleep Research at Harvard Medical School, not getting enough—or the right kind—of sleep can cause an increase in both irritability and stress. On the other hand, “healthy sleep can enhance well-being.”  

If you’re feeling stressed by the holidays, reflect on your sleep habits, and consider whether or not it’s time to make a change. Harvard Health suggests “maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule, avoiding caffeine…making your bedroom a comfortable sleep environment…and limiting light exposure in the evening.” And of course, because sleep, exercise, and nutrition go hand in hand, be sure that you are “eating and drinking enough—but not too much or too soon before bedtime, and exercising regularly.”

Move your body

When it comes to stress, exercise can not only help you get the quality sleep you need, but it can be an important stress management technique in its own right. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “exercise [is] considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress.” More specifically, they note that “aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.”  

One fantastic form of exercise for stress management is yoga. An article from Harvard Health cites research that suggests that “[yoga] practice modulates the stress response” and that it “may be helpful for both anxiety and depression.” The reason? It’s all in the breathing. According to Active, yoga helps us to control our breathing, allowing us to reach the parasympathetic state in which our minds and bodies are able to “rest and digest,” and “get some relief.” Additionally, the American Institute of Stress supports that “deep breath increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.”  

This means that whether you practice on the yoga mat, on the couch, or even in your office chair, taking a few minutes to breathe deeply and deliberately can help keep your holiday stress under control. 

Be thankful

Finally, instead of working on that list for Santa, consider making a “gratitude list” instead. Research published in the Journal of Research in Personality found that “[two longitudinal studies] supported a direct model whereby gratitude led to higher levels of perceived social support, and lower levels of stress and depression.” In other words, subjects who expressed thankfulness for multiple aspects of their lives were less stressed than those who did not.  


If you think holiday stress is about to strike, take a moment to pause, breathe, and employ one of our expert tips. You’ll be feeling better in no time!