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How to Handle Holiday Stress

Here's a season-oriented article I just wrote for  You can view it here.


If you’re like me, you have a love-hate relationship with the holidays. The excitement on our kids’ faces can make all the work and effort worth it. But oh, the work and effort.

Are you dreading getting ready for everything right now? I don’t blame you. But there are a few steps you can take to de-stress the holiday season and make things more relaxed not only for yourself, but also for your whole family.

Then you can spend more time on enjoying the activities and infusing them with fun and meaning.

1. Remember what’s important. Here’s where it all starts. Often, our stress results from worrying about things that just aren’t that important. Can’t find the perfect wrapping paper? Probably not a major issue. Not sure where everyone’s going to sleep when they arrive to visit? That’s the kind of thing that will take care of itself. The focus of your emotional energy should remain on what really matters to you, whether that’s your family, or your religious tradition, or anything else. Yes, the details matter, but it’s the big things you want to focus on, like being together and creating meaningful memories.

2. Choose family over unexamined ritual. I realized a few years ago that at Thanksgiving, I was spending more time hustling around getting ready for the meal than I was actually being with my family. Once I saw that, I began to simplify everything on that day. Sometimes I order the traditional meal and have it delivered or pick it up beforehand. One year we ordered tamales from our sons’ baseball coach (who’s also a great cook) and had a Mexican Thanksgiving. The point is that I found a way to spend more time with my family, and less time worrying about meeting every single expectation surrounding a ritual that I may never have even thought about. The rituals often get in the way of what is most important.

MORE: Keep Your Holiday Budget in Check With These Tips

3. Build in breaks for yourself. You’ve heard it a million times: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” A key to emotional and personal health during the holidays or any other time is taking care of yourself. So even though it seems like it would put you further behind if you exercised, went to lunch with a friend or meditated, don’t believe it. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be much more able to keep a healthy perspective and be the kind of mom you want to be for your family.

4. Relax your body. When we experience stress, the level of a hormone called cortisol spikes and can cause physical problems, including the weakening of our immune system. And you know you don’t want to get sick right now. So remind yourself to relax your body. Drop your shoulders. Take a deep breath. Unclench your muscles. Small steps like these can have major benefits.

5. Ask for help. Don’t do everything yourself. Have the whole family get out the decorations and trim the tree. Divide up your gift list and put different family members in charge of different tasks. Then have everyone meet in the living room to wrap presents together. You may need to be the overseer of all of these jobs, but the more you can delegate and share the load, the more relaxed and peaceful the season can be for all of you.

6. Enjoy the little things. As you’re racing around town trying to find the last few presents, and from the backseat your 9-year-old is (again!) narrating every detail of the climactic scene from The Empire Strikes Back, remind yourself that you’re spending time with your child right now. That doesn’t mean you don’t still hurry a bit, or that you have to feign surprise about Han Solo’s fate—you can even change the subject and suggest that you two sing together—it just means that you remind yourself that you’re being a mom right now, and that by simply being with your child, you’re making him happy. That’s a nice thing to remember.