How to Handle Holiday Stress

Christmas can bring more than presents, cookies and Santa Claus. With it can come stress, worry and anxiousness.  It's easy to get overwhelmed by the Holiday buzz and feel like yourself spinning out of control.


Take a deep breath.
And another.

Err, go on - take a third one too.

Hopefully you are feeling a little better already (because deep breathing is one of the fastest ways to relax).  We've outlined some more ways to cope with Holiday pressure.

So number 1 on the list:

1. Remember to breathe.

2. Make lists

Did you know that your brain can only store 3 or 4 things at once? So even though you say you are, you really aren't going crazy when you keep forgetting things. It's just our brains aren't wired to constantly store all we need to remember.

Keeping a list is one of the best stress management tools. Having lists can help you keep track of things your brain can't.  Holiday cards, presents, shopping lists, meal ingredients, travel arrangements, activities to arrange, these are all the types of things that can go on the list.

3.  After you've made your list, prioritize items.  Map the deadlines of when things are due.  

Knowing what you need to tackle first will help you know where to begin. For example, when do you have to mail packages or cards overseas to arrive in time for the 25th? When do you need to order the Christmas ham by? Is there a chance the gift you want to buy your nephew will sell out early? Figuring out a schedule keeps these action items under control and gives the Holidays a sense of order.

Plus, planning out when you need to get things done by can minimize any last minute panic and rush closer to Christmas.

4. Plan your budget ahead of time

Sit down with your partner to figure out what finances you can allocate for the Holidays. If you are paying down debt, acknowledge limitations and plan a realistic financial strategy.  And most important, commit to staying within your set budget.

You can also get creative with ways to stretch those pennies. A Secret Santa with a capped gift spend can reduce the financial burden of shopping for so many - while also cutting down on the stress and time associated with it. Or find a new family tradition like making some of the presents you plan to give.

5. Shop locally

Beat the stress of those Manhattan shopping crowds by supporting neighborhood businesses. Park Slope is bustling with boutiques, independent stores and consignment shops.  You'll cut down on travel time while getting to know your neighbors and community amenities.

It's also a great excuse to get out on a walk, an activity known for its stress busting effects.  "The rhythm and repetition of walking has a tranquilizing effect on your brain, and it decreases anxiety and improves sleep," says expert Ann Kulze, MD.

6. There's an App for that

For when you can't buy it in the 'hood, check your smart phone. Most major shopping outlets have a mobile app - including Amazon, eBay and Target - making it easier than ever.  Shop from your phone, browse wishlists, compare prices and even find coupons while you are out and about.

7. Learn to Say No

The holidays are a very sociable time of year. Between office parties, holiday cocktails, dinner events, cookie swaps and more, it's easy to say yes to doing everything. Before you know it, you're sleep deprived, possibly hungover and burning the cookies you're meant to bring that afternoon.

A new commitment can result in a compromise of an existing one or create its own set of stressors

Here are some scripts to try:

"Let me look at my calendar.  I feel like I have something going on that day and I need to check."

Always open with appreciation, like:

"As much as we'd love to"
"Thanks for reaching out"
" I appreciate your invitation"

And close with your "no" and a brief reason why:

"we're already over-committed as it stands."
"over schedule is chock full"
"work and school is keeping us all busy this year."

8. See what you can outsource

Save time and stress by singling out the work you can easily give to someone else to do. Taking even one or two items off your list can free up an afternoon or evening.

For example, take advantage of Brooklyn's local caterers, meal delivery service and delicious bakeries. Between buying all the ingredients plus the time to make those holiday sweets, it might be cheaper to order treats from your favorite cafe. Or when you are out shopping, find out what gift wrapping options are available at the store checkout.

Recruit the kids! Find things on the list your children can help you with, like wrapping Grandparent gifts, making Christmas cards or decorating cookies.

9. Don't lose your self

Stick to your daily routine as much as you can. Don't miss out on your yoga class or gym workout. If anything, this is the time of year when exercise will matter most. Those endorphins and breathing techniques will keep those stress hormones down.

Taking care of yourself means you can take better care of others.

10. Have activities and coping strategies on hand to manage hyperactive children

You are not the only one stressed out over the holidays.  It's easy for children to get overexcited and overstimulated. Kids too can find it hard to relax.

Make sure kids stay active and preoccupied but be sure to not overschedule them. 

Manage your kids' overabundance of energy with projects like making holiday cards, giving to others and decorating/ craft activities.  Here [pdf download] are some additional tips for managing hyper and stressed out children.  For example, create a home sanctuary, get kids to play outside, sing calming carols, maintain normal sleep schedules and do some volunteering. 

 11. Learn to let go

Live in the present! Just the act of focusing on what is happening in the moment can reduce feelings of stress, according to expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, a MIT trained molecular biologist and pioneer in the field of mindful medicine. 

Kabat-Zinn once said "You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf” and hopefully these 11 tips will help you with the rocky ocean that is the Holidays.


The Mayo Clinic
"Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping"
"25 Ways to Fight Holiday Stress"

Further Reading on Park Slope Parents:

The Real I Don't Know How She Does It


Still feeling stressed?

Talk it out with a local therapist.


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