8 Tips to Beat Holiday Stress.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: eight tips to beat holiday stress.

‘Tis the season to be jolly — and also stressed out. If you’re feeling irritable, rushed, resentful, lonely, or overwhelmed, keep these strategies in mind to help boost your happiness:

1. Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is a major disturber of people’s moods. Jet lag, traveling, parties, and over-excited children all make it hard to get your usual number of hours. Making an effort to get to bed at a decent hour really pays off.

2. Exercise. Studies show that one of the quickest and surest ways to boost your mood is to exercise. If you’re away from home and can’t do your usual routine, even a short walk will help. Even better, exercise outside, where the sunlight will help improve your mood and focus.

3. Stay in control of your eating. It seems to me that guilt about holiday binging is a major source of the blues. As an abstainer (as opposed to a moderator), I’ve decided that I won’t have even one sweet during December. It’s easier for me to abstain altogether than to be temperate. It may seem Scrooge-ish not to have gingerbread cookies or bites of a Winstead’s Frosty, but I’m happier when I’m not worrying about it.

4. Take your time; plan ahead. Hurrying to pack, rushing through stores, sprinting to make a flight – these are sure to put you in a bad mood. Try to give yourself plenty of time to do what you need to do.

5. Learn from the past. What has made you unhappy in years of old? Think back. Avoid your triggers. Stay out of the kitchen, stay out of the mall, stay away from Uncle Billy – sometimes there’s a weird triumphant satisfaction in getting worked up, yet again, by a particular situation. Don’t do it! Don’t expose yourself to known happiness risks.

6. Make time for real fun. Sometimes holiday vacations, which are supposed to be “fun,” are actually a huge hassle. Figure out ways to have fun. In my family, we decided to reduce gift-giving. All the adults “draw” for each other’s names, and we each buy stocking presents for just one other person. Also, include time for things YOU like to do: going to a movie, taking a nap while everyone else goes skating, going to the gym. I plan to spend a lot of time drinking coffee with my sister.

7. Behave yourself! If you sulk, snap, tease, or shirk, you’re not going to feel happy. It may feel good, but only for a moment. Then you’re going to feel bad. Instead, try to help out, bite your tongue, clean up, or run to the store. Look for opportunities to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” or “This is fine,” or “What should I be doing?” Do good, feel good—this really works! The way we act shapes the way we feel, so if you act in an affectionate, thoughtful way, you’ll feel more affectionate and thoughtful.

8. Fill your heart with love. My Twelfth Personal Commandment is “There is only love.” If you’re heading into a difficult situation, take a moment to fill your heart with love. Think of all the reasons that you’re grateful to your family and friends, and the happy memories you’ve shared, and how things might look from other people’s perspectives. This can be hard to do, but it will make you happier. And if you’re happy, you’re going to be better able to make other people happy. That is the mystery of the Second Splendid Truth.

Holidays are supposed to be a time of peace, love, and fun — and we can’t bicker, complain, and nag our way there. Figure out what YOU need to do to keep a holiday spirit. Number One on my personal list: everyone must GET ENOUGH SLEEP.

What stresses you out during the holidays? What do you do to keep yourself feeling calm and light-hearted?

* I love looking at book jackets, and I really enjoyed this post with the 25 outstanding book covers of 2010.

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  • Great messages, again Gretchen. I am a graduate student and I am quite warn down. Full time work, part-time school. I just finished my final project (before editing it) and think I might take a nap. Then, I’ll probably go for a walk, or a run, or to the gym. I’m taking part in a Get Fit Holiday Challenge, so I keep it at one little candy or cookie, not ten. Sleep is important. I blogged the other day about the book “The Napping House.” You know, where everyone is sleeping? We have to rest because we can’t do anything successfully without it. Off to the napping house I now go….

  • Great list and I would add: Giving to others especially to those less fortunate has been proven to reduce stress and increase happiness.

    • gretchenrubin

      YES! Absolutely. #9.

  • not even one gingerbread cookie bite!? COME ON, GRETCHEN, LIVE A LITTLE!

    just kidding. to each their own! i completely respect your right to abstain. but i have to say that holiday treats (in moderation . . . can you guess which camp i fall into?) do add to my happiness of the season. and accompanied by lots of running (which, conveniently enough, also makes me happier), things seem to work out just fine.

    • gretchenrubin

      Spoken like a true moderator!

      For moderators, moderation is the happiness booster. Truly, for me, as an
      abstainer, I enjoy making those gingerbread cookies more if I’m not fighting
      temptation all the time.

  • Erin

    This is excellent advice. My husband and I spent the weekend repainting our living room while also doing everything else we had committed to (5K race, playing hockey games, church, etc). Of course this entailed moving stuff out of the room, moving furniture, cleaning, etc in addition to actual painting!

    By Tuesday I had 3 straight days of late bedtimes and was a crabby pain at work. In retrospect more sleep would have made me happier, those around me happier and I probably would have gotten more done!

  • Something that is a big help to us is to plan in break time.
    We started that last year at Thanksgiving. Each day would involve cooking a few dishes and an activity and some free time.
    Even cooking time would have breaks built in so we won’t be exhausted be the time dinner rolled around.

  • Great list of tips! Can I add one? Drink lots… of water! Staying hydrated helps all the way around!

  • The Contrarian

    Although, this is not the most courageous or enlightened suggestion, and ordinarily I wouldn’t advocate “running away” as a good life strategy, I would add …

    #9). Buy your children and family an experience, instead of stuff. Escape the commercial rat-race, hyper-consumerism, and stress-inducing westernized holiday season, and go somewhere in the world that doesn’t embrace the all the craziness.


  • Timaree

    Besides family, the best part of Christmas is the edible goodies! I do indulge eating fudge, sponge candy, divinity, and all sorts of cookies. I love that we have these only at Christmas and then comes January and back to normal. It works for me to enjoy the season but not eat so much all year.

  • Ann

    I would also add to decrease stress – try spending less this season

  • Not one sweet during the holidays? That is some self-control! 🙂

    These are all great tips. People make too much of a fuss over the holidays, often because of expectations of what they should be doing, instead of what they want to be doing. It’s a beautiful time of the year, but if you think about it, Christmas really is just another day. It doesn’t have to be such an elaborate, stressful ordeal.

  • Grace

    Curious about a Winstead’s Frosty, I found the following info: Winstead’s is a legendary restaurant in Kansas City. The first Winstead’s opened in the 1940s and has been a popular restaurant ever since. The frosty is the exclusive Winstead’s drink you eat with a spoon. That drink is the special chocolate malt which was originally known simply as “the frosty”.

    • gretchenrubin

      Everything is on the internet! I love it! Yes, that is the famous Winstead’s
      Frosty. Nothing like it.

      • Grace

        Also amazing that you are in your office in New York and I am in mine in Winnipeg Canada (about 700 miles due north of Kansas City). Somehow I think your office is more exciting (and warmer!) than mine. And now I’m craving a Winstead’s Frosty…

  • Sarahhp

    I’ve added a lot to my Christmas cheer this year by being creative rather than buying lots of stuff. I’ve made decorations for my tree and I’m giving home made cookies as gifts to colleagues etc. This approach has given me nice activities to do with my kids, kept me out of the crowded stressful shops and kept the cost of Christmas manageable.

    My other top tips are:

    1. Embrace internet shopping – I find it much easier to sit at home think of a lovely gift idea, order it up and get it delivered. Again saves braving crowded, stressful shops especially with kids in tow (avoiding their pester power). I find I’m also a bit more considered in my purchases.

    2. Do things early. I get a lot of satisfaction from getting most things I need in late November. No last minute panics or splurges.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great suggestions!

  • Great tips but how about adding LAUGHTER to the list too? Laughter is the antidote for stress. Watch a funny movie, tv show or try Laughter Yoga. We really don’t need a reason to laugh – just start smiling and laughing (especially with other people around) and soon you’ll create an atmosphere of fun.

    Don’t let holiday stress get you down…Giggle On! YAY! *laughing*

    • gretchenrubin

      Great idea!

  • Lauriewallin

    I totally resonate with making time for real fun. Last night hubby and I got all ready for a party we were supposed to go to and at the last minute we had the sitter instead go grocery shopping for us and we changed back in to jammies and played games with our kids. That was a major “real fun” kind of night!

  • Wonderful list! I’ve shared this on FB.

  • Daniela

    I’m totally with you on the sleep – I’m just starting my day after too little sleep and I already feel cranky… I’d like to ask, what do you do when Christmas is a painful reminder of the absence of lost family members?

    • gretchenrubin

      This is a really tough one. Traditional times remind you of what has changed
      and who is gone. Is there a way to reflect on happy memories? Or if a
      tradition is too painful, to change it to something new, for the new

      • Rachel

        This seems to be the common feeling regarding holidays and lost family members. But after my dad passed away a few years ago, my mom remarked about how people would comment on how tough the holidays must be. But she said holidays were not unusually difficult, as every day meant an absence of his presence. She didn’t really understand why people thought holidays were somehow worse or more important. But perhaps it depends on what significance a person places on holiday traditions that may have involved the family member who is no longer present.

  • A few years ago, I think my mom finally learned from the past. A stressful part of Christmas for our immediate family was the visit we HAD to make to a certain great-aunt’s house. My mom, sister, and myself hated it, and were always miserable the whole time. So, a few years a go, my mom decided we just wouldn’t go and hasn’t been since. However, my dad doesn’t get it and insists my mom is being “hateful” towards his family (it’s his aunt). I wish there were a way for him to realize his immediate family should be more important than extended.

  • MMM

    On my list is staying home. Not that I don’t love to see family, but traveling adds so much stress to the season. Especially when the traveling involves 500 miles of roads in snowy country. I find it a much more pleasant holiday season when I stay at home with my little family and work on starting our own traditions.

  • Great list but I’d add a few more — 1. The importance of saying “no” to requests from others so as not to overextend yourself’. 2. Set realistic goals for yourself; far too many people think they have to have the “perfect” holiday experience.

  • If I could do all those things (particularly exercise and controlling my food intake) during the holidays, I wouldn’t be stressed! I’m influenced too much by my family force feeding me!

  • I am happiest at the holidays when Ichoose who I want to spend them with.It becomes a truly joyous time instead of one filled with obligations that can lead to resentment.

  • Who needs stress…it will toughen you up if you know how to handle it, great tips!

  • Momof3

    A year later & you’re still coming up in searches! Check out this light-hearted response…  http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/end-day/2011/dec/4/christmas-recipe-oping-holiday-stress/

  • Josiah

    Using Stones to help manage stress during the holidays – http://goo.gl/1mQnQ

  • Guest


  • I will surely going to follow the tips that you had shared. When
    Holidays some, I know that many of us a busy preparing for different celebration
    and stress comes in. I will going to share these tips also to my friends.

  • Nata

    I would like to add to the list is to learn that it is okay to say no. No you won’t visit family this year, but next year you will. No you won’t spent tons of money over budget to keep up the Jones, your money and time is worth than just appearence. No, you can’t make it to the cookie exchange but you hope everyone has a good time.

    It okay to say No to people sometimes. FOr some reason everyon thinks since its the holidays you have to say yes or somehow you are obligated to attend every even invited too. Just say no, and allow yourself to lighten your list!

  • Wow, I loved reading this – these tips are very helpful, easily implemented. This is a great resource. Thank you