Tips For Managing Holiday Stress

The holiday season starts off with us singing about “4 calling birds, 3 french hens, 2 turtle doves…” and often ends up with thoughts of “4 more presents bought, 3 dishes planned, 2 families to see… and a single hour left to sleep.”

Although November and December are often talked about with a sense of gratitude and fondness, it can be a stressful time of year. There are external stressors like, financial strain, work pressures, travel plans, and social responsibilities. People are also coping with internal stressors like grief, worry, and feelings of worthlessness or loneliness. Many of these stressors have been exacerbated throughout the last 20 months as we live through the COVID-19 pandemic.  Here are some things to consider to help you through this holiday season:

Make a list and check it twice: We live in an age of information overload. It is easy to forget things when there is so much to notice and remember each day. Writing things down canimprove memory recall and reduce the sense of cognitive overload when managing multiple tasks at once.

  • Make a grocery list of ingredients for your holiday meal.
  • Write down gift ideas for family members or make a holiday spending budget. Make note of holiday sale weekends to cut costs of holiday spending.
  • Write down details of your holiday travel plans. Put event reminders in your phone to help you organize social responsibilities.


Express yourself through writing: Writing things down can also help with processing heavy emotions or help you remember the fun and joy you experienced.

  • Journal about what is weighing heavy on your mind or heart.
  • Write a letter to a loved one you miss.
  • Keep a daily log of things that went well each day.
  • Make note of the events and traditions you want to do in upcoming years.


Be mindful of the moment: We’ve all heard the saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” It can also feel true when we are feeling overwhelmed. Take time to observe the present moment as it is happening.

  • Stop and name 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you smell and 1 thing you taste.
  • Mindfully eat your holiday meal.
  • Do a quick body scan to help you recognize fatigue, pain, or a full stomach.




Set boundaries: Knowing your limits is key when trying to set a boundary. Decide what you are comfortable with in the following areas before you engage in holiday plans:

  • Conversation topics
  • Spending limits on gifts
  • How much you want to eat
  • How many people you want to see.
  • When trying to communicate a boundary with someone, remember to remain objective, express how you are affected by the situation, assert your needs, reinforce compliance, and be open to negotiating.


Focus on the reason for the season: It is easy to get caught up in the pressure of gift giving or the stress of dividing your time across people or locations. Take time to remember what you value most about the holiday season, whether it be spending time with loved ones, taking a break from work, celebrating your faith, or giving back to the community.


By Karyn Swinson, PhD
Clinician, Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus