Alone in the holiday season? Here’s how to deal with stress and anxiety

As jolly as it is, the holiday season can be a time of anxiety and stress. Here’s how to handle it.

Holiday cheer. We’re all supposed to have it this time of year. It’s supposed to ooze out of our pores, spreading the holiday spirit to all those around us. 

The reality of the holiday season for many people is an influx of stress and anxiety symptoms. The holiday season demands a lot — elaborate meals, well-thought-out gifts and a never-faltering smile. You’re not alone if you’re not feeling merry and bright. 

If this time of year spikes your stress levels, it can feel as if you’re doomed to struggle through the season. Thankfully, there are practical tips and strategies you can use to minimize holiday stress and anxiety. Here’s what to know. 

How do the holidays affect mental health? 

For many people, the holidays are the most difficult time of the year for their mental health.  

There’s a lot expected of us during the holidays, which can cause anxiety to skyrocket. But it’s not just stress or social anxiety that occurs. Depression is also common during the holidays. For some, this can lead to loneliness or lack of fulfillment, which amplifies depression symptoms, especially if someone is grieving during the holidays or is already living with seasonal affective disorder.

Conditions such as depression and anxiety can worsen, with the added stress of family and holiday shopping or the isolation that COVID-19 introduced to some people’s holidays.

6 tips for managing your stress during the holidays 

Acknowledge what you’re feeling

Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be happy. And that’s OK. The first step in managing stress is to acknowledge what you are feeling. Once you name the stress and recognize it’s happening, you can decide how to react to it. 

Acknowledging the stress you feel can also help you find the source of your stress. Maybe it’s that your plans are falling apart or that having all of your family in your home is stressful.

Naming your feelings and then identifying what is making your anxiety symptoms flare up can help you get a handle on things. 

Woman sitting on the floor, surrounded by papers, planning out her bills and expenses during the holiday season
urbazon/Getty Images

Plan ahead where you can

One of the most stressful parts of the holidays is how much planning and coordinating goes into it. Planning things out is a crucial tool you have to reduce holiday stress. 

Giving yourself the space to identify potential problems and plan how to address them can solve some issues before they arise. Plan out as much as possible — your holiday spending budget, your travel checklist or what you’re going to eat. To ease and anticipate stress, plan as much as you can. 

Embrace saying no 

Having boundaries is essential for our mental health. They’re even more important during the holidays when stress levels are high, and we’re off our schedule. It’s easy to say yes to everything, especially when family asks. 

However, if you don’t want to participate in a particular tradition or activity, say no. Saying no and respecting your boundaries can not only ease stress but maintain positive relationships and protect your values. Feeling empowered to stay no will help you from pushing yourself too far and entering holiday burnout.  

Make time for yourself 

Sometimes, having all your family members packed into one house for days on end can be a bit smothering. Understandably, you may be feeling a little stressed. Remember, no matter how far you or your family traveled, you can take some time for yourself. You can spare an hour or so to get away and prioritize self-care. 

Self-care looks different for everyone. There’s no right or wrong way to take care of yourself, though most activities allow you to be alone and take a breather.  

Common self-care strategies for the holidays

  • Go for a walk
  • Breathing exercises or meditation 
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Head to the gym
  • Read a book
  • Listen to music 

Stick to your healthy habits

The holidays are some of the busiest times of the year. A lot is going on, and sometimes our normal habits and routines fall by the wayside. In place of our exercise routine, we stay inside and watch a movie. Instead of having a healthy snack, we reach for the holiday treats all around us. 

Those things alone aren’t bad. A few cookies and skipping the gym won’t ruin your healthy journey. However, it can amplify your stress. Processed or high in sugar foods have been linked to increased cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is the primary hormone that regulates our stress response. If there is excess cortisol in the body, you will feel stressed.

If you’re feeling stressed, prioritize your established healthy eating and exercise habits as much as possible. Don’t add stress to your life by making unrealistic expectations or goals for yourself during the holiday season. Find the middle ground that’s right for you. 

Reach out to family and friends

The holidays can also be extremely isolating, especially if you don’t have or cannot visit family. Depression symptoms can worsen due to influences like family stressors, social isolation or seasonal affective disorder. 

If you’re predisposed to depression symptoms, reaching out to people when you need a connection is important. Whether Zoom sessions or regular phone calls, being intentional about your need for connection can help you get through the holiday season.