Two of them having a coffee mug.

8 ways to manage stress during the holidays

By Christina Varvatsis, PharmD, BCPS Nov 30, 2023 • 6 min

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but constant shopping, overcommitted schedules and the stresses of hosting can make the holidays feel less like a Hallmark movie and more like an endless to-do list. It’s no wonder that 41% of adults say their stress levels increase during the holiday season.

Looking to reclaim the holiday magic? Try these stress-fighting tips.

1. Get your shopping done early 

Nothing says holiday stress like the last-minute rush through crowded stores filled with sweater sets and statement mugs. Make this year different. Choose a date to have all your shopping done (including the wrapping!) and stick to it. With your gifts wrapped and packed away, you can relax and enjoy the season. If you do need to shop last-minute, Walgreens 30-min. Pickup and 1-hour Delivery services can help simplify your schedule and give you time back.

Pro tip: Keep track of gift ideas throughout the year on your phone or in a notebook. When it comes time to shop, your list will be filled with thoughtful ideas that the gift receiver actually wants or needs. 

2. Opt for experiences over gifts 

Instead of giving gifts, start a new tradition with friends and family that focuses on sharing experiences. Consider trying out a new restaurant, seeing a show or concert, taking a class, attending a sporting event or having a spa day. Not only will you be creating memories and spending quality time with your loved ones, but you'll also cut down your shopping list — a win-win.

3. Give yourself permission to say no 

Saying no to things that don't bring you joy leaves room to say yes to the things that truly matter. If that Secret Santa party feels more like an obligation than a fun night with friends, give yourself permission to graciously decline. Say no to jam-packed schedules, old traditions that no longer work and overspending that will leave you feeling guilty come January.

4. Give back to others in need 

There’s a reason that people who volunteer often say they get back more than they give. Helping those in need is a great way to connect with others and can offer a deeper sense of purpose and meaning. Volunteering has also been shown to decrease stress and increase positive, relaxed feelings. Choose something meaningful to you and consider getting the whole family involved for a new holiday tradition. Find volunteer opportunities in your area, and remember — Giving Tuesday is November 28.

5. Focus on making healthy food choices 

From Halloween through New Year’s Day, temptation seems to lurk around every corner. But overindulging on carbs and sugar can leave you feeling sluggish, irritable and tired. Focus on filling your plate with mostly nutritious choices, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Take time to savor your favorite holiday dishes (in moderation), opting for special treats you can only get this time of year (think your grandma’s apple pie) rather than foods available anytime.

6. Head outside for some fresh air 

It may not be tempting to head out into the cold, but studies have found that spending time in nature can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and improve your mood. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try incorporating a daily nature break into your routine. Even a short walk around your block can help clear your mind, making you better prepared to take on the day’s tasks. 

7. Incorporate physical activity into your day 

It’s easy to let your exercise routine slip during the holidays, especially with promises to start fresh on January 1. But exercise is a proven stress reducer that can improve your mood and calm your mind. Almost any form of exercise or movement can help manage stress. So find something you love, whether it’s playing pickleball with friends, taking a yoga class or going for a brisk walk with your dog. You’ll enjoy doing it and be more likely to stick with it long term.

8. Take time for yourself

It’s the season of giving, but as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Giving yourself the gift of self-care, even if it’s just a few minutes a day, can help you feel recharged and refreshed. Some ideas to try: read a book in a quiet spot, listen to a guided meditation, write in a gratitude journal, or call a friend or loved one.  

Published November 2023.