Practical Communication

Five Do's and Don'ts for Coping with Holiday Stress

Five Do's and Don'ts for Coping with Holiday Stress

The holiday season is upon us and even though it’s relatively early, you might already be feeling stressed out, worried, and wishing it was over already. Don’t let this year be another year where you feel you have to just “survive” the holidays. The words holiday and stress do not have to go hand-in-hand!

Here are some tips borrowed from our “Coping With The Holidaze” workshop that will help you keep your stress level down, your good cheer up, and allow you to focus on the “reason for the season,” whatever that may be for you and your family.

Stressed woman shopping for gifts of christmas with red santa hat looking angry and distressed


1. Eliminate unnecessary activities. My holiday decorating routine takes about 2 hours total. About 80% of my decorations remain in the attic. Yes, at some point I need to go up and decide whether I need to keep all that stuff if I’m not going to use it. However, if my yard has a few festive touches, the tree is up, and my Christmas houses are on the mantle, it feels “Christmas-y” and that’s good enough for me.

You don’t need to spend days cleaning, decorating, and trying to achieve perfection.  Focus on what’s important and know “when to say when.”

2. Delegate! If you can get your spouse and kids to help decorate, wrap, cook, bake, etc., then get the army moving. If not, it may be well worth it to outsource some things. No one will know you didn’t hang your own lights or bake your own cookies. You don’t have to (and probably can’t) do everything yourself!

3. Just say “NO!” You don’t have to attend every party, give a gift to every relative, or volunteer for every activity at your office or child’s school. Choose the activities you really WANT to do and for the others, say, “I’m sorry, I can’t.” For more help learning to say no, check out my blog post, Just Say No: Five Simple Ways to Do It.

4. Manage children’s expectations and teach them to appreciate what they have. Whether you’re on a budget, or you just don’t want to raise spoiled brats, start early teaching your children that it’s not all about “stuff.” If this means a drastic change from the piles of gifts of years past, prepare them for the “new reality” beforehand.

5. Set a realistic spending budget so you won’t hate yourself in January. Spending more than you can afford at the holidays might make others happy, but you double your stress at the holidays and beyond if you spend more than you should on the gifts you give. Set a budget BEFORE you start shopping and stick to it. Additionally, when you’ve gotten the items on your list, STOP SHOPPING– even if that means saying no to friends or handing over the keys and your GPS (pre-programmed to the mall) to those visiting out-of-town relatives.



1. Don’t try to do it all. At first glance, this is similar to the #1 “do,” however what I mean here is not to try to live up to the television standard of the perfect mother, father, child, boss, coworker, etc. Not everyone has to bake at the holidays. You don’t have to send out holiday cards if you don’t want to. Several years back I made the decision to stop sending out cards to everyone I’d ever met. It was stressful, I didn’t enjoy the process, and I hadn’t spoken to half half the people on my list  in years—in other words, we really didn’t have a relationship anymore. Why was I sending a handwritten card and letter to a person who sent me a card with a mailing label on the front and who didn’t even bother to write ANYTHING inside, not even a signature?

2. Don’t break your routine. Holiday stress and family squabbles only increase when everyone is tired, over-caffeinated, sugared-up, and hasn’t exercised in weeks. Do the best you can to stick to a “normal” schedule.

3. Don’t add to other people’s stress. Just because you waited to the last minute to try to get that impossible-to-find Star Wars toy and Elsa’s Frozen Ice Castle your kids wanted, doesn’t mean you should take out your frustration on others in line, the store clerk, or the person in the parking lot who is taking too long to vacate “your” parking spot. Take a deep breath, count to 10, and focus on the positives in your life and what the season really means to you.

4. Don’t let tradition rule you. Just because mom, dad, or grandparents did things certain ways, doesn’t mean you have to continue to do those same things– especially if you don’t want to. Just because my mother always made that green Jell-O mold with carrot shavings, doesn’t mean I had to continue that tradition… and we’ve managed to survive.

5.  Don’t underestimate the power of a positive and joyful atmosphere. Attitude is a huge part of what makes the holidays happy. Three years ago, after trying to untangle a particularly uncooperative string of icicle lights, I finally convinced my husband it just wasn’t worth spending four hours on a $10 string of lights. After a run to the store to buy a new set, the whole family headed out (after an admonishment from me that we were all going to be happy and have fun hanging lights) and started the process.

When half the lights were hung, I stepped out to the curb to survey the progress… and started laughing hysterically. I called my daughter over to see and she started cracking up. Wondering what was so funny; my husband descended the ladder and joined us, only to find that we couldn’t even see the lights hanging from the roof because our trees had grown just enough from the previous year to completely block the view of the lights. Even he had to laugh.

Here’s to a happy, stress-free, and joyful Holiday Season!

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