Stress management is a strange variable to contend with during the holidays. After all, the holidays are a time to reconnect with family, to spread joy, show gratitude and to relax as the year winds down. They are a time to give, to indulge and to express your love and appreciation to others. The holidays are also a time to freak out, to over-spend, to over-stress, to waste hours shopping for gifts, to slave away in the kitchen, and to schlep tons of luggage and crap through an airport as you travel to be with loved ones. Let the holiday madness begin! It’s no secret that for many people the holidays are a really stressful time of year. According to a recent poll conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “nearly three-fourths of participants reported feeling more anxious or depressed during the holiday season.” Which means that if you’re worried about your upcoming holiday season, you are definitely not alone.

There are several potential sources of stress during the holidays—going over-budget on holiday gifts, having high (often unrealistic) expectations for family reunions, lack of free time, delayed or cancelled travel plans, crowded stores and more. Regardless of why you feel anxiety during the holidays, it doesn’t have to be that way. The holidays can be merry, fun and even anxiety-free. Turns out a few simple changes to your pre-holiday habits and a slight shift in your actions during the holidays can help you avoid the stress you’ve been dreading all year long. Here are some helpful tips for stress management that will make the holidays more joyful and less taxing for you and your loved ones.

Plan Ahead
For starters, two key words to practice, starting now: PLAN. AHEAD. So much of our holiday stress is rooted in a loss of control. No control over our time, our energy, our money and our life. Don’t let that happen to you. Instead, start preparing for the holidays now. Secure your holiday dinner guest list. Make a grocery shopping guide and menu now. Start buying holiday gifts before the mad rush, before the lines get long and items are out of stock. Start wrapping and labeling gifts now so you’re not left doing it the night before. The sooner you start working the more likely you are to get things done in advance, and to ask for help if you need it. More time = less stress = more opportunities to sit back and actually enjoy the holidays.

Read Related: Top 5 Holiday Stress Triggers & Strategies to Manage Them


Stay Away From Crowds
Being in any crowded space can be overwhelming and stressful, and not surprisingly, stores can get incredibly packed during the holiday season. A couple easy ways to avoid that anxiety-inducing environment: 1) shop online, 2) shop before the holiday chaos and 3) make a no-gift pact with family members. If you all agree to give each other cards, experiences or homemade keepsakes instead of store-bought gifts everyone will enjoy the best gift of all—no long lines at checkout and no dealing with those pushy, obnoxious, (and probably stressed out) holiday shoppers.

Set a Spending Limit
If you’re worried about your cash flow during the holidays, set a strict budget not only for yourself, but for your friends and family members as well. Commit to a spending limit so that everyone buys gifts within a certain price range; that way no one will feel guilty about not giving enough, and you won’t be stressed about over-spending.  


Establish Rules When it Comes to Family Time
If you have family staying with you (ahem, your in-laws) then you’re probably concerned about them invading your space, and with nowhere to escape, it’s extra hard to unwind. Make rules with your family to ensure that you have a room to call your own and a place that is off-limits to guests. Also, ask those family members for help with your chores and responsibilities, whether it is the dishes or taking care of the kids, so you don’t have to carry all the weight and you have a chance to decompress at the end of the day.


Find Time to Exercise
Holiday weight gain is a real struggle for a lot of people. According to an article in Health Magazine, “studies have shown that many people gain a couple of pounds over the holidays and can become part of a vicious cycle: Holiday eating is stressing you out and the holiday stress is making you eat.” To break the cycle, make sure you stick to your regular exercise routine, even during the festive season. Even a daily walk outside can help you de-stress and feel better about your body and your health. And while holiday meals might be rich, the rest of your meals should not be. Start your day with a balanced, healthy breakfast, load up on veggies so that your body will be nourished and stay hydrated by drinking throughout the day.

Focus on Yourself
It’s easy to spend all your energy focusing on others during the holidays, but that attitude, while generous and coming from a good place, actually does more harm than good. According to George Pratt, PhD, a psychologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla in California, “we go overboard to please others during the holidays: shopping, cooking, sending cards, and attending every event…instead, take care of yourself by saying no at least once—and maybe more.”